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Belarus Closes OSCE Office in Capital

Belarus Closes OSCE Office in Capital

Belarus has ordered the closure of the Minsk office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, after the group criticized the country's recent presidential election.

The Belarusian foreign ministry announced Friday that it has decided not to continue the operations of the OSCE in the nation's capital. Ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh said the office's mandate has been fulfilled.

But the move follows the OSCE's assessment after the December 19 polls that Belarus is still "a considerable way" from holding democratic elections. The group said election monitors assessed almost half of all observed vote counting as "bad" or "very bad."

International observers and Western leaders also criticized the government for violently repressing post-election protests. Thousands of people rallied against results they insist were rigged to favor incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who won a fourth term in the election.

Since his controversial victory, Mr. Lukashenko's government has detained hundreds of opponents, including opposition candidates and journalists.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is the world's largest regional security organization, with 56 participating states from Europe, Central Asia and North America.

The OSCE office in Minsk began operations in early 2003.

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