Lithuania to urge Belarus to hold fair presidential election

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will urge Belarus' hard-line President Alexander Lukashenko to ensure the presidential election in December, which he is expected to win, is free and fair, a spokesman said Monday.

Grybauskaite is heading to neighboring Belarus on Wednesday as Lithuania is preparing to take-over chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, in 2011.

"The president will send a message to President Lukashenko about the European position on human rights and the importance of transparent democratic elections," Linas Balsys, spokesman for the Lithuanian leader, told Agence France-Presse.

Lukashenko, once described by Washington as Europe's last dictator, has ruled the former Soviet republic of 10 million people with an iron fist since 1994, and is widely expected to sail to victory for a fourth term in office in the December poll.

The mercurial Lukashenko has in recent months made more positive noises to the West and become increasingly unpredictable toward Russia, which was formerly his stalwart supporter.

Russian media have sought to lay the knife into the Belarusian leader and officials have signaled they won't support him in the upcoming election.

Lithuania, a member of EU since 2004, also hopes that an agreement allowing easier border transit for Belarusians into Lithuania due to be signed during the visit will also encourage democratic development in the fellow former Soviet republic, Balsys said.

Under the proposed agreement, people living up to 50 kilometers from the border would be able travel visa-free across the frontier.


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