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Belarus tells U.N. it has seen no cases of police abuse

GENEVA (Reuters) - Belarus told the United Nations on Monday it was not investigating a single allegation of police abuse, despite coming under Western criticism over three months of violent crackdowns on anti-government demonstrators.

FILE PHOTO: Police use a water cannon during an opposition rally to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus October 4, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

Belarus has arrested thousands of people during demonstrations that followed a disputed Aug 9 presidential election. Rights groups say hundreds of detainees reported being subjected to beatings and other abuse.

But during a review into the country’s record by the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday, a representative of Belarus’s Investigative Committee told the global body: “Currently there have been no identified cases of unlawful acts by the police.”

Speaking by video link from Minsk, Mikhail Vavulo blamed protest organisers for using people as “cannon fodder”, bringing children and even babies in prams to demonstrations. The Investigative Committee is the law enforcement body charged with prosecuting major crimes in Belarus.

Riot police on Sunday fired warning shots into the air, used stun grenades and arrested more than 300 people to deter tens of thousands of Belarusians who marched through Minsk to demand veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko leave power.

Mass demonstrations have taken place since the Aug. 9 election. Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, rejects accusations the vote was rigged and says he has no intention of quitting.

During Monday’s review, the first by the U.N. rights body into Belarus for five years, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States all called for prisoners to be released and for torture accusations to be investigated.

“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing use of violence, intimidation and repression against the Belarusian people,” said Andrew Bremberg, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Yury Ambrazevich, the Belarusian ambassador, told the forum his country had “the necessary instruments itself peacefully to restore stability in society”.

“We are convinced that only through respectful dialogue without external pressure, blackmail or conditions is it possible to make true progress,” he said.

Russia has supported Lukashenko, a close ally. Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador, decried “increasing external pressure” on Belarus.

Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Peter Graff