MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarus has rejected a call by Western countries for a human rights fact-finding mission to be sent to the authoritarian former Soviet republic in the wake of a crackdown on opposition.
On Wednesday, 14 countries asked Belarus to cooperate in the mission, which would have been conducted under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The 14 wanted to use an OSCE mechanism that allows for creation of ad-hoc missions to address problems in member states.
Belarus Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh said Thursday that the move was discriminatory and contrary to the OSCE's principles.
About 700 people were arrested in a crackdown that followed protests against the disputed Dec. 19 election that gave longtime strongman President Alexander Lukashenko a fourth term. Many of those arrested were beaten by riot police when they broke up a large election-night demonstration outside the main government building, at which protesters alleged the election was rigged.
Those arrested included seven candidates who opposed Lukashenko. Two of them remain in jail, facing charges that could bring up to 15 years in prison.
A prominent opposition activist who also faces the possibility of 15 years in prison was released from jail on Thursday on agreement that he would not leave the country. Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the United Civil Party, said he believed his release reflected a tentative signal from Lukashenko's regime to try to mend fences with the West as the country faces an economic crisis.
The OSCE's elections observation mission was strongly critical of the December elections and two weeks later Belarus ordered the OSCE mission in the country to leave.
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