Wednesday, March 30, 2005. 7:20am (AEST)

Belarus close to dictatorship: UN official

A UN report on Belarus says the former Soviet republic is close to becoming a dictatorship.

"Belarus is not yet a real dictatorship but it is very close to it," said Adrian Severin, UN special rapporteur for Belarus.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has earned stinging criticism from the West for suppressing media freedoms and political opponents during his 10 years at the helm of the impoverished and isolated republic.

Mr Severin, who was not authorised to visit the country, called on Minsk to carry out "a deep reform of the political system" and to halt "the continuous deterioration of the human rights situation".

He also called for international funds to establish independent television and radio stations that could be broadcast there from abroad.

The report drew angry criticism from Minsk's representative on the commission, who called Mr Severin's report hostile and demanded an apology.

Russia's representative at the meeting said the report was unacceptable, saying Mr Severin had "overstepped his mandate".

The European Union and the United States representatives present both backed Mr Severin's report.

Belarus was one of the rare countries criticised by the UN rights commission at its 2004 meeting.