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Britain, US call for new vote in Belarus after ‘damning’ report on rights abuses

2020 Belarusian protests — Minsk, 16 August (Homoatrox/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are calling for new elections in Belarus after the publication of an independent report into the “falsified” presidential election nearly three months ago and a brutal crackdown on protests.

Mass demonstrations have swept across Belarus since the disputed presidential election that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept, ratcheting up pressure on Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled the country for 26 years.

Raab described the findings of the report presented to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Permanent Council on November 5 — the day Lukashenka’s fifth term officially ends — as “a damning indictment” of his rule.

“Essential that its recommendations are carried out & fresh elections held. We will continue to stand with the Belarusian people in their hour of need,” he tweeted.

In a statement, Pompeo said that Washington remained “inspired by the resilience and dignity of the Belarusian people.”

He called on the Belarusian authorities to “cease their crackdown and heed the demands of the Belarusian people for free and fair elections under independent observation.”

The report urges Belarus to “organize new genuine presidential elections based on international standards,” saying the August 9 vote was not transparent as well as neither free nor fair.

It also denounced “systematic” human rights violations committed by Belarus’s security forces in response to the peaceful postelection protests.

The fact that no one has been held accountable for “well-documented cases of torture and ill-treatment” during the crackdown shows there is a climate of impunity, according to the document.

Meanwhile, it says the freedom of the media and the safety of journalists have been under attack by the authorities.

Thousands of people have been arrested across Belarus since the authorities declared Lukashenka the winner of the election to give him a sixth consecutive term. Most of the country’s opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, including presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who considers herself the rightful winner of the vote.

In a statement, Raab denounced “the despicable actions” taken by Lukashenka’s regime to suppress his own people.

“New elections which are free and fair must now be organised, and those responsible for the violence against demonstrators held to account,” he added.

In September, 17 OSCE member states including Britain and the United States invoked Britain joined 16 other OSCE member states in invoking the so-called Moscow Mechanism that triggered an investigation by an independent human rights rapporteur into electoral fraud and the violation of the human rights in Belarus.

As international pressure on Belarus mounted, the nearly three-month wave of protests continued on November 5, with some 200 disabled people rallying across Minsk’s central avenue chanting “Go away!” and “Your time is over!” to demand Lukashenka’s resignation.

Several people were detained, including two journalists.

Meanwhile, Tsikhanouskaya met with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna.

The opposition leader, who has been living in Lithuania since shortly after the election after threats to her and her family, said in a statement that the two discussed “peaceful ways of resolving the political and economic crisis,” as well as “Austria’s possible role in this process.”

Also on November 5, Lukashenka ordered border guards to prevent the return to Belarus of its citizens who are currently abroad in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

However, he said the ban did not apply to those travelling back from Russia, citing the two neighbors’ border arrangements.

“There is no politics here. The decision is serious, restrictive. And this is a temporary solution,” Lukashenka told a meeting on anti-coronavirus measures.

Lukashenka downplayed the pandemic in the spring and summer, but partially closed all the country’s land borders to foreigners on November 1 as second wave of the virus engulfs Europe.

The border restrictions prompted speculation the measures were politically motivated.