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Belarus Wants To Boost Links With EU After Poll

OSCE observers Geert-Hinrich Ahrens (left) and Anne-Marie Lizin at a postelection press conference in Minsk
MINSK (Reuters) -- Belarus wants to improve ties with the European Union after its parliamentary election despite criticism of the poll by Western observers, the foreign minister has said.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had pinned hopes on the September 28 election to boost the ex-Soviet state's relations with the West, soured by charges of human rights abuses and election rigging.

None of the 78 candidates from the liberal and nationalist opposition won any seat. Monitors noted "minor improvements" but said the vote fell short of accepted standards.

"The [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe]'s conclusions are very much like the proverbial glass that is either half empty or half full. It all depends on how you look at matters and where your attention is drawn -- to positive or negative things," Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said.

"We hope the EU will look with constructive eyes on the situation and proceed on the basis of our joint tasks. We are ready for productive interaction with the EU. We are not going begging. We are able to stand on our own two feet.

"We are calmly proceeding along our own path, but hope that along that path we can count on action together with the EU."

The OSCE criticized the vote count for lack of transparency and cheating, with observers denied access in 35 percent of cases. Progress was noted in the larger number of opposition candidates put on the ballot and increased broadcasting time.

"From our standpoint, not all of these positive steps were reflected sufficiently in the OSCE report. And unfortunately, there were instances of outside pressure on OSCE observers," Martynov said. He did not elaborate.

Positive And Negative

Lukashenka noted both positive and negative points in the report while urging the West to lift sanctions imposed in connection with allegations that he rigged his 2006 reelection.

A statement by the EU's French presidency said the criticism was cause for concern and called on Belarusian leaders "to continue their efforts to conform to international democratic standards and cooperate fully with the [OSCE]".

Martynov blamed shortcomings on failure to implement orders from the country's leaders, but said Minsk was "ready to work on its errors" by taking into account the OSCE's recommendations.

"This is, unfortunately, part of life. If all decisions were implemented to the letter, we would have achieved communism by the 1980s," he said.

Belarus, he said, was not seeking anything from the West other than normal relations.

Officials say political sanctions, including a U.S. and EU travel ban on Lukashenka, intimidate investors. Financial sanctions include a U.S. ban on dealings with oil company Belneftekhim, which earns up to 30 percent of foreign currency earnings, and exclusion from the EU's preferential trade system.

"We expect no handouts or subsidies. All we are interested in is normal interaction, particularly in the economic sphere," he said.

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, And Moldova Report

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