Belarus threatens to expel OSCE (Roundup)

Minsk - The authoritarian government of Belarus has threatened to close the Minsk offices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), government officials said Friday.

A Belarusian official said Friday that his government is leaning toward not renewing the mandate for the OSCE office, which opened in 2003.

The OSCE has been sharply critical of the December re-election of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, which saw him returned to power with nearly 80 per cent of the vote.

OSCE officials urged Belarus not to move to close their offices.

'The OSCE still has important work to do in Belarus,' said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis. Lithuanis is set to take over the rotating head of the OSCE in 2011.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1992.

Many foreign countries and international agencies have publicly doubted the veracity of the recent election returns and condemned violence against government critics in its aftermath.

The move would be a sharp turnaround in Belarus-OSCE relations.

A report from the Belarusian foreign ministry said that the OSCE's Minsk office had completed all the tasks it had set out to do, said the government official. It added that Belarus did not expect a closure would harm relations between Belarus and the OSCE


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