Lithuania Outlines OSCE Priorities, Prods Belarus

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis has outlined his country's priorities as it assumes leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and pleaded for Belarus to rethink its de facto expulsion of the OSCE.

The handover from Kazakhstan of the one-year chairmanship has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the forced closure of the OSCE's mission in Belarus.

On December 31, Belarus refused to extend the OSCE's mandate after the Vienna-based body accused President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of using fraud in the December 19 vote.

Azubalis called on Minsk to rethink its expulsion decision.

"I deeply regret that those [democratic] principles have not been met in the recent elections in Belarus and that Belarus has withdrawn consensus for the continuation of the OSCE office in Minsk," Azubalis said. "I call for reconsideration of this decision as well as for fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria and standards."

Azubalis also urged the OSCE to focus on resolving existing conflicts and achieving concrete progress in addressing transnational threats and safeguarding fundamental freedoms, such as speech and press freedoms.

Lithuania assumed the chairmanship of the 56-member OSCE on January 1.

compiled from agency reports


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