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UN Criticizes Intimidation of Opposition in Belarus


A United Nations human rights expert has criticized intimidation of the opposition in Belarus, as the country's security chief warned demonstrators they face possible terrorism charges.

U.N. investigator Adrian Severin expressed concern over beatings and arrests of political activists, attacks on journalists and a crackdown on independent newspapers ahead of Sunday's presidential elections in Belarus. He urged President Alexander Lukashenko's government to cease such actions and ensure that the elections are held in full compliance with international standards.

Meanwhile, Belarus KGB Chief Stepan Suhorenko warned the opposition that any protesters who take to the streets on election day will face terrorism charges, which carry a penalty of life in prison or even a death sentence.

The chief opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich admits he faces an uphill struggle, but says he remains in the race to show citizens they have options for the future.

In Brussels, European Union external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner called for the immediate release of detained activists and deplored the decision of Belarus authorities to bar EU lawmakers from observing the vote.

Mr. Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994, and is seeking a third term.

The West has criticized him for his poor human rights record and for quashing political opposition. The United States has called Mr. Lukashenko Europe's last dictator.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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