Belarus leader demands end to sanctions after poll

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko urged the West on Tuesday to lift sanctions against his ex-Soviet state despite criticism of an election by Western monitors who said the poll fell short of accepted standards.

"We are waiting for you to lift the sanctions which you introduced and which have offended the entire Belarussian people," Lukashenko told Anne-Marie Lizin, a senior monitor.

"Why have you erected an iron fence around us? This iron curtain must be removed."

The European Union and United States accuse Belarus of violating fundamental rights during Luskahenko's 14 years in power and have imposed sanctions, including an entry ban on the president and punitive measures against Belarussian companies.

Belarussian officials say the political sanctions intimidate inward investment and that oil products giant Belneftekhim, which brings in a third of the country's foreign currency earnings, would have more trading opportunities if the sanctions were lifted.

None of the 78 candidates from the liberal and nationalist opposition won a seat in Sunday's parliamentary election.

The report by the monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted minor improvements over previous polls in the country of 10 million.

But it said the count had been plagued by cheating and monitor access had been hindered in 35 percent of cases. The OSCE also said the campaign had failed to inform voters of the issues or candidates.

Reporters at the meeting between Lukashenko and Lizin said the president noted the report's positive and negative aspects.

"What is important for me is that you recognised that the elections conformed to Belarussian law. You said our election was not quite like in the West and a bit boring. I agree with you," he said.

"I ask you not to demonise some of my comments. This was an emotional assessment. We will analyse the report and work on our errors. Let's keep cooperating in normal fashion. If Europe makes two steps towards us, Belarus will make three in return."

Lizin replied: "We will do everything so that the door remains open so that there may be a possibility for dialogue," she was quoted as saying.

The EU also took note of the report's findings and urged Belarus to work on implementing the OSCE recommendations.

"It is important now for the EU to reflect on how best we can engage with Belarus, its government and people," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on Monday.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack expressed disappointment that the election fell short of international standards.



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