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Belarus Urged To 'Prioritize' Democratic Reforms


Kent Harstedt (file photo)

A senior official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has praised Belarus's "active engagement" in international affairs, but says Minsk needs to clean up its own backyard when it comes to democracy and human rights.

Kent Harstedt, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's special representative on Eastern Europe, made the remarks on January 24 at the conclusion of a three-day visit to Minsk.

Harstedt said that Belarus's capital "has become almost synonymous with efforts to address major international crises, whether it's the crisis in and around Ukraine or the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

But he added that the Belarusian authorities should "also prioritize democratic reforms that will help ensure all Belarusians have a full voice in their governance."

Harstedt, who is a member of parliament in Sweden, said he was "disappointed that more has not been done to address the much-needed electoral reform" in Belarus.

He urged a "redoubling of efforts" so that the 2020 election in Belarus will be held "under a new and improved legislative framework.

Belarus has not held a vote that was assessed free or democratic since the early 1990s, and authorities routinely punish dissent and keep a tight lid on the media in the post-Soviet country of around 10 million people.

Harstedt also called on the authorities in Belarus, the only country in Europe that still applies capital punishment, to abolish the penalty.

Rights organizations say more than 400 people have been sentenced to death in Belarus since it gained independence in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

During his visit to Minsk, the OSCE representative met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey, House of Representatives Chairman Uladzimer Andreychenka, and the head of the Central Election Commission, Lidzia Yarmoshina.

He also met with opposition politicians and representatives of nongovernmental organizations.

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