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US Will Work With Belarus Despite Flawed Election


The United States said Tuesday it intends to maintain dialogue with Belarus despite widely-criticized parliamentary elections there. No opposition candidates won seats in the polling Sunday and critics of the authoritarian government of President Alexander Lukashenko are claiming fraud. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States says it shares the view of European governments and outside monitors that the Belarus elections fell significantly short of international standards.

But the State Department is taking note of some improvements in election conditions in a country described as Europe's last dictatorship, and says it intends to maintain dialogue with the Minsk government in hope of prodding it toward further reform.

The election had been viewed as a possible turning point in Belarusian relations with western democracies following several conciliatory moves, including the release in August of the last three detainees considered political prisoners - among them former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin.

However monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote count was plagued by cheating and restrictions on would-be observers, and Belarusian election officials said none of the 78 opposition candidates won a seat in the 110-member parliament.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood reiterated U.S. disappointment over the vote but said the United States intends to maintain dialogue with the Belarus government, and others in that country, to promote democratic freedoms including genuinely-competitive elections.

"We have very serious issues with Belarus," he said. "There's no question about that. And as we said, those elections were going to be a key point in determining how we go forward. We're obviously disappointed that they didn't meet up to international standards. And we're having conversations with our European allies about how we can help move the process forward. We obviously need to work with the government if we are going to deal with some of these issues that I've just outlined."

In Minsk Tuesday, President Lukashenko urged the United States and European allies to lift sanctions imposed on Belarus because of its human rights record, but officials here made clear there will be no early move to do so.

The United States and Belarus engaged in a tit-for-tat set of diplomatic expulsions over U.S. sanctions placed on the country's state-controlled oil and chemical combine late last year.

However, Mr. Lukashenko made a series of overtures to the west following a bitter energy-supply dispute with his longtime strategic ally Moscow.

After the release of Mr. Kozulin, who had challenged the longtime president in elections in 2006, the Bush administration eased some restrictions and sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Merkel to Minsk, the highest level U.S. visit in more than two years.

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