Belarus closes OSCE office in Minsk

MINSK, BELARUS (BNO NEWS) - Belarus on Friday closed down the office of the Organziation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) after the European body criticized December's presidential elections.

According to RIA Novosti, Belarusian authorities decided to discontinue the mandate of the OSCE mission in Belarus after the body said it was disappointed with the election process and the results of the last controversial presidential polls.

"This was a well thought-out decision conditioned by a lack of objective grounds to retain the OSCE mission in Belarus," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh.

The OSCE office in Belarus opened in 2003 and officials within the European body urged the Belarusian government not to close its offices as it still has important work to do in the troubled former Soviet nation, according to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis.

In addition to OSCE, many foreign countries and international agencies have criticized and doubted the fairness and veracity of the December elections. They have also condemned the violence against government critics during the polls aftermath.

In December, President Aleksander Lukashenko won his re-election after gaining nearly 80 percernt of the votes, a percentage that was labeled as fraud by opposition. In this way, Lukashenko, also known as Europe's last dictator, began his fourth term at the helm of Belarus.

An OSCE official monitor said that the presidential elections were marred by mass violations of electoral procedures. The official mentioned that over 800 serious fraud cases were reported by international observers.

"The elections were neither free nor fair, we saw a lot of violations, ballot box stuffing, group voting, a non-transparent process of giving over the protocols from precinct election commissions (PECs) to territorial election commissions (TECs), and we were not able to see how the protocols went from PECs to the Central Election Commission," Maciej Duszynski said.

After the poll results were announced, thousands of people took the streets of Minsk protesting against the re-election of Lukashenko. However, Belarusian police responded violently as a group of people attempted to enter the parliament. Several Belaursian opposition candidates were arrested as well as around 600 protesters


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