OSCE urges Belarus vote reform

By Sylvia Westall

VIENNA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The election in Belarus which gave President Alexander Lukashenko a fourth term and sparked big street protests lacked independence and impartiality, Europe's main rights and security body said on Tuesday.

The Dec. 19 vote showed Belarus was far from meeting its pledge to hold democratic elections, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.

"There was a lack of independence and impartiality of the election administration, an uneven playing field and a restrictive media environment, as well as a continuous lack of transparency at key stages of the electoral process," it said in a report through its democracy and rights arm ODIHR.

"Clear instances of ballot stuffing and tampering with the results were noted by international observers," the report said.

The first trials have already begun in Minsk of dozens of people, including presidential election challengers to Lukashenko, who were held in the police crackdown on the Dec. 19 protest rally. [ID:nLDE71L0ST]

OSCE election monitors said in December immediately after the vote that the count had been flawed and police had been heavy-handed in their action.

The remarks angered Belarus which forced the OSCE to close down its office there by denying an extension for the mission.

The report listed recommendations for Belarus, including establishing an independent electoral commission, allowing free assembly, ending media harassment and enforcing transparent vote counting.

"Observers assessed the vote count as bad and very bad in almost half of all observed polling stations," the report said.

Belarus's electoral authorities said Lukashenko won 79.6 percent of the vote. The OSCE report said the commission had not published a breakdown of results by precinct.

"The Central Electoral Commission lacked independence, impartiality and collegiality," the report said.

Last week the OSCE voiced concern over the start of legal action against opposition protesters in Belarus and criticised holding parts of the first trial behind closed doors. [ID:nLDE71H0G0] (Editing by Richard Balmforth)


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