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Strongman Alexander Lukashenko was set to keep his forces in power Sunday as ex-Soviet Belarus elected a parliament in polls the united opposition refused to recognise even before they closed.

With the man branded Europe's last dictator keen to show off his democratic credentials and avoid a re-run should turnout dip below 50 percent, a barrage of state TV spots urged citizens to cast their ballots.

But despite the state message polling stations looked empty, and even the head of Central Election Committee admitted voting was "weak", confirming the lack of interest in a process in which most candidates already work for the state.

At a polling station in one of the capital's schools, pensioner Alla said she had voted for the incumbent pro-Lukashenko deputy in her district, but confessed she knew little about him or what he had done in the past four years.

"I haven't heard anything about his activities over the past term, but I think he is worthy of representing me," she told AFP.

Lukashenko, who arrived at his polling station with his young son Kolya in tow, praised the "calmness" of the polls: "There is nothing to criticise so far," he told journalists.

"They should envy our boring elections. We don't need any revolutions or upheavals," the 18-year presidential veteran said,

Nearly two years after unleashing a crackdown on demonstrators who dared question the scale of his election to a fourth term, Lukashenko faces hardly a challenge from his scattered and weakened foes.

Most opposition groups called for a boycott and pulled their candidates out of the race a week ago, telling people to protest by staying at home or even going fishing on election day.

But the authorities still appeared to be taking no chances, with about a dozen protesters arrested in the past week and thousands of flyers calling for a boycott confiscated.

At a press conference Sunday, opposition leaders proclaimed the election unfair, lacking in transparency, and undemocratic.

"Belarus authorities did not take the opportunity for democratic reform, did not change the electoral laws, did not free political prisoners, did not let the opposition into voting committees, used force against the opposition, and censored candidates," Belarus National Front party leader Alexei Yanukevich declared.

"This gives us the right not to recognise the results of the vote now, regardless of the outcome," a statement signed by five anti-Lukashenko groups said.

The last legislative polls in 2008 were swept by government forces, a scenario almost certain to play itself out again.


Libya's president has ordered all of the country's militias to come under government authority or disband - a move that appeared aimed at harnessing popular anger against the powerful armed groups following the attack that killed the US ambassador.

The assault on the US mission in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, has sparked an angry backlash among many Libyans against the myriad armed factions that continue to run rampant across the nation nearly a year after the end of the country's civil war.

On Friday, Benghazi residents staged a mass demonstration against the militias, and stormed the compounds of several armed groups in the city in an unprecedented protest to demand the militias dissolve.

President Mohammed el-Megaref said the militias, which the weak central government has relied upon for providing security in neighbourhoods and at state facilities since the removal of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, must fall under the authority of the national government or be disbanded.

He said a joint operations room in Benghazi will coordinate between the various authorised armed brigades and the army. Armed groups operating outside the "legitimacy of the state" will be disbanded, and the military and police will take control over those militias' barracks, he said.

Mitt Romney told donors the Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever" in peace with Israel and if elected president he would just kick the issue down the road, a leaked video showed Tuesday.

The Republican White House hopeful had already faced a barrage of criticism over initial excerpts from the May 17 fundraiser in which he writes off Democratic voters as "victims" that are beyond his help.

The liberal news magazine Mother Jones revealed more excerpts from the $50,000-a-plate Florida event on Tuesday, this time on foreign policy, particularly related to the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Romney's commander-in-chief credentials were already under the microscope after he was widely condemned for launching a bitter attack on President Barack Obama in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi assault, which claimed the lives of four Americans, including the Libyan ambassador.

Asked at the fundraiser if the "Palestinian problem" can be solved, Romney replied that the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."

Displaying little nuance about different Palestinian factions, his remarks appear to dismiss the possibility that any Palestinian leaders are willing to work towards peace with Israel.

"I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way," he said.

"You move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem -- and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."

A French magazine has said it will publish topless pictures of Prince William's wife Catherine on Friday, in a move met with dismay by the royal couple.

Announcing a world exclusive, Closer magazine invited readers, via its website, to pick up the new edition and enjoy "the photos that the world can't wait to see; the Duchess of Cambridge topless on a guesthouse terrace".

The pictures were apparently taken while the British royals were on holiday in France last week.

The couple are currently in Malaysia and a source travelling with them said that "their royal highnesses were saddened to learn about the alleged photos".

"The incident, if true, turns the clock back 15 years," the source said, referring to the intense media attention on William's late mother Diana, who died in a car crash while fleeing paparazzi in Paris in 1997.

The royal source added that the monarchy was investigating the authenticity of the photos and would then "make a decision about what to do".

The story was picked up in the British media on Friday, less than a month after the publication of naked pictures of William's brother Harry.

Britain's younger royals are touring the globe throughout 2012 as part of celebrations marking the 60-year reign of William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

They are now on a nine-day trip that started in Singapore. They arrived in Malaysia on Thursday, and will move on this weekend to the Solomon Islands and later Tuvalu.

Visiting a hospice in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur Thursday, Kate made her first comments on foreign soil, discussing care for disease sufferers as the British monarchy continues to ease her into her official role.

On Friday, the royal couple will make a highly-anticipated public appearance at a park in central Kuala Lumpur before visiting a nature conservation site in the Borneo jungle Saturday.

A French judge and prosecutor are to travel to the UK as part of an investigation into the murder of a family in the Alps.

They will join a small team of French investigators already in Britain to help find out what led to the shooting of engineer Saad al-Hilli, his wife and mother-in-law, as well as a French cyclist, near Lake Annecy a week ago.

Meanwhile, three more people were found in a car following a shooting on the French island of Corsica on Tuesday, although there was no immediate evidence of any link.

A witness who came upon the aftermath of the Alps massacre likened the carnage to a horrific film scene.

The man, named only as Philippe D, 41, a hiker, told Le Parisien newspaper how he came across the dramatic scene after setting out with two female friends to go walking. He recalled how the group was met by a "panic-stricken" British cyclist making his way down from the murder scene as they drove up a hill in the Combe d'Ire forest, near Chevaline.

Arriving at the car park, Mr D saw the bodies of Mr al-Hilli, 50, his dentist wife Iqbal and Mrs al-Hilli's mother in their bullet-ridden BMW. A fourth body, that of Sylvain Mollier, 45, the French cyclist who apparently stumbled across the attack, lay on the ground. Zainab, seven, was lying by the car.

The walker said they had seen no one as they drove up through the forest and that the killer or killers could have escaped using a winding lane which leads directly to the motorway.

He spoke out as it emerged the al-Hilli family had moved from one campsite to another two days before they were gunned down. A Dutch couple believed the group planned to spend a week at the three-star Village Camping Europa site in St Jorioz after they arrived last Saturday, but they left on Monday. The family were staying in a caravan at neighbouring campsite Le Solitaire du Lac when the killings happened.


The publisher of Yellow Pages is set to be taken over by a syndicate of banks under plans to tackle its £2.2 billion debts, it has been reported.

Hibu, which is the new name for directories firm Yell, has been unable to shake off the legacy of a costly expansion drive that saw it snap up its biggest rivals in Spain, America and parts of Latin America.

According to the Sunday Times, more than 400 banks and bond investors have started work on a financial restructuring that will see a large chunk of the debts wiped out in return for control being handed to lenders.

Creditors including Royal Bank of Scotland, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank are reportedly in talks to appoint American restructuring firm Houlihan Lokey about preparing a blueprint for the debt-for-equity swap.

Shareholders, who have seen the stock slide from 600p five years ago to just under 1p on Friday, are likely to be wiped out under the move.

The group, which employs around 13,000 people, has attempted to reinvent itself by increasingly focusing on digital operations as it looks to offset the pressure on its printed directories operation.


One of India's top businessmen has slammed the government over its economic policies, saying it is no longer possible to sell the "India story".

Companies have long griped about India's byzantine rules and suffocating bureaucracy, but perceived inconsistency in government policy, stalled economic reforms and a spate of political scandals have soured the investment mood.

"The world expected a lot from us," NR Narayana Murthy, chairman emeritus of Bangalore-based software giant Infosys, said in a televised interview Saturday.

"We have fallen far short of expectations and it's no longer possible to sell the 'India story'," Murthy told ET NOW, referring to investor expectations that Asia's third-largest economy would be a turbo-charged performer.

"I meet a lot of chief executives outside India and earlier India was mentioned once every three times China was mentioned. But now, if China is mentioned 30 times, India is not even mentioned once," he said.

The attack by Murthy, who founded one of India's largest software giants, on the Congress government of Premier Manmohan Singh was unusually outspoken for an Indian businessman.

"We have cut our own legs off by our inaction, by our policies," Murthy said.

Data Friday showed India's growth remained stuck at three-year lows of 5.5 percent, a high figure by developed nations' standards but far below the near double-digit growth of much of the past decade.

Murthy said that controversial anti-tax-avoidance rules proposed earlier this year that included a plan to tax takeovers retroactively had spooked foreign investors. The government is now reviewing the plans.

To "change the law on a retrospective basis is actually like taking a pistol and shooting ourselves", he told India's NDTV

Islamic extremists on Saturday seized the town of Douentza on the frontier of the northern territory they control, and the government-held south, residents told AFP.

Moussa Dicko, a teacher in the town which lies 170km (100 miles) from Mopti, which is under army control, said the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) fighters had entered the town on Saturday morning.

"This morning between 7:00am (local and GMT) and 8:00 am people from MUJAO arrived on nine 4x4 vehicles. They disarmed people from Ganda Iso" a local militia which was holding the town.

"They took all the weapons and then chased them away," said Dicko, adding the jihadists had met with officials in the town to explain that the notorious self-defence group -- which had promised to work with them -- were "traitors".

"As I speak they have taken the different entrances and exits to the town."


A wildfire in southern Spain has forced hundreds of British expats to leave their homes and find shelter in evacuation centres.

Strong winds have fanned the flames in the Costa Del Sol region, and Spanish authorities suspect the blaze was started deliberately.

The Foreign Office (FCO) said "several hundred" Britons have been evacuated from the popular tourist area, including around 300 who have relocated to shelters.

Some 4,000 people in total have left their homes as a result of the fire, which officials said was started early on Friday in the town of Coin.

The Foreign Office said there had been no reports of any injuries to British residents, nor any requests for urgent assistance.

Holidaymakers said the smoke has caused them to cough, and stopped them from sleeping. Tourist Sara Hesketh told the BBC: "We've all got coughs with all the smoke and stuff and we're all exhausted because none of us have had any sleep. We're just waiting now to go home, really."

An FCO spokesman said: "We are aware of the outbreak of a fire in the region surrounding Malaga. We have deployed consular staff to visit evacuation centres and they are providing assistance to British residents who have had to leave their homes. We estimate that several hundred Britons have been evacuated, including some 300 who have been relocated to evacuations centres in the La Cala de Mijas and Calahonda areas. We are working closely with the Spanish authorities who are handling the evacuation centres and communications with local residents."

Jose Luis Ruiz Espejo, a regional interior ministry official, said firefighters suspect arson and they hope to bring the blaze under control by the end of the day.


A Syrian combat helicopter crashed in Damascus on Monday, state television said, as fierce fighting reportedly gripped the east of the capital a day after the regime was accused of a new massacre.

A series of explosions rocked the city from about dawn and a watchdog reported heavy shelling and fighting between government troops and rebels in several eastern and northeastern districts and nearby towns.

State television said the chopper came down near a mosque in Qaboon, but gave no further information, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it believed it "was hit while it was being used in fighting nearby."

Helicopter gunships were shelling the neighbouring district of Jubar, where anti-regime sentiment is strong, the Observatory said, and reported heavy fighting between the rebel Free Syrian Army and government troops.

A rebel Free Syrian Army group claimed responsibility for the attack, with a spokesman saying that the pilot had been killed.

"It was in revenge for the Daraya massacre," Omar al-Qabooni, a spokesman for the Badr Batallion in Damascus told AFP via Skype. He said the rebels had found the body of the pilot after the burning aircraft crashed to the ground. His claims could not be independently verified.

The assault on the northeast of the capital was unleashed a day after opposition activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's regime of gruesome new massacre in the southwestern town of Daraya.

The Observatory said hundreds of bodies had been found in the small Sunni Muslim town after what activists described as brutal five-day onslaught of shelling, summary executions and house-to-house raids by government troops.

It said Sunday that 320 people had been killed and on Monday reported the discovery of another 14 bodies in Daraya after the offensive by troops battling to crush insurgents who have regrouped in the southwestern outskirts of Damascus.

Assad vowed Sunday that he would not change course in the face of what he charged was a "conspiracy" by Western and regional powers against Syria.

"The Syrian people will not allow this conspiracy to achieve its objectives" and will defeat it "at any price," Assad said at a meeting with a top official from Iran, Syria's chief regional ally.

Assad has since March last year been trying through force to smother a popular uprising that has turned into a brutal civil war which has left thousands dead, seen more than 200,000 refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries and 2.5 million in need inside Syria.

But despite their far superior fire power, the government forces are struggling to defeat rebels who have built strongholds in many parts of the country, particularly the northern city of Aleppo.

Human rights groups have accused the regime of committing many atrocities in its attempts to crush the uprising, and a UN panel said earlier this month it was guilty of crimes against humanity.

Grisly videos issued by opposition activists showed dozens of charred and bloodied bodies lined up in broad daylight in a graveyard in Daraya, and others lying wall-to-wall in rooms in a mosque.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground, said many victims had been summarily executed and their bodies burnt by pro-regime shabiha militias that have been transformed into a "killing machine".

"Bodies were found in fields, basements and shelters and in the streets," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that many of the victims had died in shelling or were summarily executed.

Britain said that if confirmed, the Daraya massacre "would be an atrocity on a new scale."