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Belarusian Leader Demands End To Sanctions After Elections

Presiden Lukashenka said his government will study the monitors' report.
MINSK (Reuters) -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has urged the West to lift sanctions against his ex-Soviet state despite criticism of recent elections by Western monitors who said the poll fell short of accepted standards.

"We are waiting for you to lift the sanctions that you introduced and that have offended the entire Belarusian people," Lukashenka told Anne-Marie Lizin, a senior monitor.

"Why have you erected an iron fence around us? This iron curtain must be removed."

The European Union and United States accuse Belarus of violating fundamental rights during Luskahenka's 14 years in power and have imposed sanctions, including an entry ban on the president and punitive measures against Belarusian companies.

Belarusian officials say the political sanctions intimidate inward investment and that oil products giant Belneftekhim, which brings in a third of the country's foreign currency earnings, would have more trading opportunities if the sanctions were lifted.

None of the 78 candidates from the liberal and nationalist opposition won a seat in the September 28 parliamentary elections.

The report by the monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted minor improvements over previous polls in the country of 10 million.

But it said the count had been plagued by cheating and monitor access had been hindered in 35 percent of cases. The OSCE also said the campaign had failed to inform voters of the issues or candidates.

Reporters at the meeting between Lukashenka and Lizin said the president noted the report's positive and negative aspects.

"What is important for me is that you recognized that the elections conformed to Belarusian law. You said our election was not quite like in the West and a bit boring. I agree with you," he said.

"I ask you not to demonize some of my comments. This was an emotional assessment. We will analyze the report and work on our errors. Let's keep cooperating in normal fashion. If Europe makes two steps towards us, Belarus will make three in return."

Lizin replied, "We will do everything so that the door remains open so that there may be a possibility for dialogue."

The EU also took note of the report's findings and urged Belarus to work on implementing the OSCE recommendations.

"It is important now for the EU to reflect on how best we can engage with Belarus, its government, and people," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on September 29.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack expressed disappointment that the elections fell short of international standards.