EU calls for reform after Belarus crackdown

STOCKHOLM, Sept 17 (Reuters) - European Union president Sweden called on Belarussian authorities to take steps to improve democracy and human rights in the country after a crackdown by authorities on demonstrators this week.

"The Presidency urges the Belarussian authorities to refrain from the use of force in dealing with peaceful demonstrations and to ensure that representatives of independent media are able to perform their tasks without interference," Sweden, holder of the rotating presidency, said in a statement on Thursday.

On Wednesday, police in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, broke up an unsanctioned opposition rally and arrested about 20 people. [ID:nLG254802]

About 40 activists had gathered on the city's main square to mark the anniversary of the 1999 disappearance of opposition activist Viktor Gonchar.

Riot police broke up the protest, dragging activists into nearby vans and blocked journalists trying to cover the rally.

The European Union has proposed negotiating an association agreement with Belarus under its "Eastern Partnership" scheme which provides for closer cooperation on energy and offers aid.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko was described by a former U.S. administration as Europe's last dictator, but he has granted concessions to the opposition in recent years in a bid to build better ties with the European Union.



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