U.S., EU chide Minsk on OSCE decision

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Washington and the European Union condemn a decision by the government in Belarus to close the offices of the OSCE, the U.S. State Department declared.

Elections in Belarus raised hoped that what Western allies described as Europe's last dictatorship would open up. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was monitoring the December vote, called the election flawed when incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko took nearly 80 percent of the vote.

Minsk announced Dec. 31 that it wouldn't extend the OSCE mandate for the country. The State Department announced U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton issued a joint declaration of regret.

"The mandate of the mission is not completed, as the OSCE's critical assessment of the presidential elections indicates," the statement read.

Both leaders went on to say that the closure, the detention of scores of opposition leaders who challenged Lukashenko and media repression "represent a step backward in the development of democratic governance in Belarus."

The European Union earlier this week said it was considering a visa ban on Lukashenko.

"The United States and the European Union remain willing to assist Belarus in meeting its OSCE commitments in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms," the joint statement concluded.


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