U.N.'s Ban calls for release of Belarus protesters

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Monday for the release of opposition candidates, journalists and others detained in Belarus during a crackdown on demonstrators after a December 19 election.

Police in the former Soviet republic beat and arrested protesters and rounded up opposition candidates after the vote, which handed a fourth term to President Alexander Lukashenko, accused by Western leaders of dictatorial rule.

As of a week ago, about 200 of 650 detainees were thought to be still jailed.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban had noted serious concern by observers at the electoral process and subsequent developments.

"He's concerned about the continued detention of journalists, opposition candidates and their supporters and calls for their release and the full observance of human rights and due process," Nesirky told reporters.

Ban also regretted a decision by the Belarus government to close the Minsk office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a human rights watchdog, Nesirky said.

Belarus announced the move after the OSCE described the election as flawed and accused police of heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators.

The actions of the Belarus government have already been condemned by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by the European Union, which may reinstate a visa ban on Lukashenko and other officials, according to EU diplomats.

(Reporting by Patrick Worsnip, editing by Philip Barbara)


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