Vienna/Vilnius - The Organization for Security and Co- operation in Europe (OSCE) said Monday that it had started diplomatic efforts to continue its work in Belarus, after the government there shut down the OSCE office.
'I deeply regret that Belarusian authorities did not extend the mandate of the OSCE Office in Minsk,' said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, whose country chairs the Vienna-based OSCE this year.
Informal consultations were under way with Belarus and other countries 'to find an agreement acceptable to all,' Azubalis said in a statement from Vilnius.
The OSCE has been sharply critical of the December re-election of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, which saw him returned to power with nearly 80 per cent of the vote.
The mandate of the OSCE's office in Minsk ended on December 31.
The small office had been active in aiding non-governmental groups and journalists, and in monitoring human rights violations.
More than 630 people have been arrested in a violent crackdown on opposition protests following the polls in Belarus. Around 150 were to be released Monday.
In contrast to Lithuania's foreign minister, the country's President Dalia Grybauskait signalled some understanding for Lukashenko.
She said she 'deplores the disproportional use of force by the Belarusian regime against the protesters but also disapproves of violence by the protesters and potential provocations.'
'Isolation of Belarus has not produced the desired results,' she added, calling for easing travel regulations for Belarusians into the European Union.
EU foreign ministers were to discuss the Belarus issue at their next meeting at the end of January, a German foreign ministry spokesman said. One option was the resumption of EU sanctions against Belarus.