Washington - The decision by Belarus to close the local offices of the Organization Security and Co-operation in Europe takes the country 'backwards' in the development of democratic institutions, the US State Department said Monday.
The Belarusian government under strongman President Aleksander Lukashenko has said that it will not renew the OSCE's mandate for operating in Minsk following its expiration on December 31.
'Unfortunately, this is a step backwards in the development of democratic government and respect for human rights in Belarus,' State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.
'The United States deeply regrets the government of Belarus' decision to terminate the mission of the OSCE office in Minsk,' he said.
The OSCE along with the United States and European Union was sharply critical of December elections that returned Lukashenko to power for another term. Lukashenko has been referred to in Western circles as 'Europe's last dictator' and the elections were largely believed to be fraudulent. He has also been accused of violent crackdowns against dissidents.
The OSCE monitors elections and also promotes independent journalism and democratic politics.