Belarus closes down OSCE office after poll criticism

The OSCE office in Minsk (image from office's website) The OSCE office was set up in 2002

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The former Soviet republic of Belarus has shut down the local office of European human rights watchdog the OSCE, after criticism of its election.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the decision had been taken because there were "no objective reasons for retaining" the OSCE's mission.

He did not refer to the presidential poll on 19 December, which sparked violent unrest after fraud allegations.

The OSCE had said many of the counts it monitored had been "very bad".

A positive judgment by the OSCE on the conduct of the election had been seen as crucial to Belarusian chances of receiving EU economic aid.

But Tony Lloyd, head of the short-term OSCE observer mission, told reporters on 20 December: "This election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed."

The incumbent President, Alexander Lukashenko, was officially re-elected for a fourth term with nearly 80% of the vote.

Police dispersed at least 10,000 anti-Lukashenko demonstrators in the capital, Minsk, arresting hundreds of people including opposition candidates.

'Valued' work

Speaking on Friday, Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh said his country had "valued" the work of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), and looked forward to further "interaction" with the body.

However, "an evaluation of the results achieved by the OSCE mission in Minsk shows that the mission has fulfilled its mandate", he said.

The office, which has five international and eight local employees, was set up in 2002 to assist the Belarusian government with developing civil society and the economy.

In another development on Friday, media representatives reported that the Belarusian secret police (KGB) had been raiding the homes and offices of independent journalists.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the raids which, it said, seemed aimed at seizing all documents and files related to coverage of the election.

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