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Opposition candidate elected to Belarussian parliament - first time in 20 years

Opposition candidate elected to Belarussian parliament - first time in 20 yearsAt least one Belarussian opposition candidate was elected to parliament on Sunday, the central election commission said - the first time a politician opposed to hardline President Alexander Lukashenko has won representation in 20 years, Reuters reports.

The result will not change the political landscape in the former Soviet republic, once termed Europe's last dictatorship by the United States, but it signals the authorities are making some concessions to Western demands for democratic change.

Anna Konopatskaya, a member of opposition party United Civil Party, won a place in parliament, election results showed. Independent candidate Elena Anisim, who has links to the opposition, was also elected.

Lawmakers loyal to hardline Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko retained power in an election on Sunday, but the opposition's win of a seat for the first time in 20 years could help the ex-Soviet nation further improve ties with the West.

"We've done everything so that there aren't complaints from the Western side. We accommodated their requests," Lukashenko told journalists after casting his vote in Minsk.

The opposition, which has not been represented in the 110-seat parliament since 1996, were not expected to gain any seats, but in a concession to Western calls for greater transparency its candidates had been able to register more easily. External monitors were also given access to the vote count.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has kept the country in a close strategic alliance with Moscow. However, some cracks appeared in the relationship following Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and since then Minsk has made overtures to the West.

The release of political prisoners and Lukashenko's role in hosting Ukraine-Russia peace talks also eased international criticism of the veteran leader, who the United States once said ran Europe's last dictatorship.

The European Union ended five years of sanctions against Belarus in February, while the United States has relaxed some of its restrictions on Minsk and said the authorities' handling of Sunday's vote will factor into an upcoming sanctions review.
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