EU criticizes post-election clampdowns in Belarus

Belarus closed down the OSCE's local operation, after it called last month's presidential elections in that country "flawed." On Tuesday, top EU and US diplomats voiced their concern.

The European Union on Tuesday threatened to reinstate a visa ban on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and other officials, after the country shut down local operations of a security watchdog that criticized its elections last month.

In a joint statement, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they regretted Belarus authorities' decision to close the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) office in that country.

OSCE election observers had accused President Lukashenko of using fraudulent counting in the December 19 election to win almost 80 percent of the vote. Belarus did not renew the organization's mandate, which expired on December 31.

Ashton and Clinton also urged Belarus to release presidential candidates and others detained after the elections in December.

"The elections and their aftermath - particularly the continuing detention of presidential candidates and new detentions and raids targeting the media - represent a step backwards in the development of democratic governance," they said, calling for the immediate release of all the detained candidates.

However, they added that the United States and the European Union remained willing to help Belarus meet its commitments on human rights and basic freedoms.

Lithuania, which took over the OSCE's rotating presidency on January 1, also urged Belarus to reverse the closure of the mission and release the opposition candidates.

However, Lithuania said it did not believe isolating Minsk would be the best policy and said it was taking unspecified "diplomatic steps" to change Minsk's mind.

On Monday, Belarus freed one of five opposition presidential candidates it has held in custody since post-election protests.

Author: David Levitz (AP, Reuters)

Editor: Rob Turner


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