OTTAWA, (AFP) - Canada said Tuesday it was "deeply disappointed" by the Belarussian government's conduct in recent elections, urging an investigation of alleged rights abuses.
"The lack of transparency in vote counting and the limited access to state media for opposition candidates raise serious questions about the validity of the official result," Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said in a statement.
"Canada is also very concerned about the arrest of opposition candidates during the violent crackdown against demonstrators that followed the election. We condemn the use of violence and call on the authorities to release those who were unjustly arrested."
Belarus jailed 600 demonstrators late Monday during a mass rally against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, defying fierce Western condemnation of the bloody crackdown.
Police officials said the protesters would be held for up to 15 days while prosecutors probed their alleged involvement in "organizing mass disturbances" - a crime that carries a sentence of up to 15 years.
"Canada is deeply disappointed by the Government of Belarus's conduct of the December 19 presidential election," Cannon said. "We condemn the use of violence and call on the authorities to release those who were unjustly arrested."
The top Canadian diplomat also urged Belarussian authorities to conduct "transparent" investigations into the violence.
After the last presidential vote four years ago, Ottawa placed restrictions on Canadian exports to Belarus and increased tariffs on some Belarussian exports.
Cannon warned Canada would uphold these restrictions on official contact and trade, as he urged the former Soviet republic to "carefully" study recommendations by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's International Election Observation Mission, which found the election was flawed.