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AMERS

Belarus opposition leader calls for U.N. monitoring mission

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the United Nations on Friday to condemn the crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko on protesters who charge he rigged his re-election victory last month.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya takes part in the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly high-level online debate in Vilnius, Lithuania September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Speaking to a virtual informal session of the U.N. Security Council, Tsikhanouskaya also urged the United Nations to send an international monitoring mission to Belarus and said the U.N. Human Rights Commission should hold a special session on the human rights situation there.

Tsikhanouskaya also called on the international community to impose sanctions on the individuals responsible for electoral violations “and crimes against humanity.”

“We, the Belarusian people, need the help of the United Nations, in order to stop blatant human rights violations and cynical disregard for human dignity,” Tsikhanouskaya said, making her first call for international involvement in the crisis.

“We ask the United Nations to condemn the use of excessive force by the Belarusian security services against protesters.”

The opposition leader spoke from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where she fled after Lukashenko launched his crackdown.

Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, has faced a wave of opposition protests since his Aug. 9 election victory. He has denied accusations by the opposition and Western countries that the vote was rigged and has resisted demands to step down.

Human rights experts from the United Nations said this week they had received reports of hundreds of cases of torture, beatings and mistreatment of Belarusian protesters by police.

The government has denied abusing detainees and has said its security forces have acted appropriately against demonstrators.

SANCTIONS

“We urge the United Nations to send the needed international authority mission to Belarus to document the situation on the ground,” said Tsikhanouskaya, adding that the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Belarus must be allowed free access to and movement in the country.

Tsikhanouskaya, a political novice, emerged as the consensus opposition candidate in last month’s election after better-known figures, including her jailed activist husband, were barred from standing.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials last month, signaling impatience with the West’s cautious approach by announcing sanctions without waiting for the rest of the European Union.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States and European partners were together reviewing imposing targeted sanctions on anyone involved in human rights abuses in Belarus.

A senior U.S. State Department officials told Reuters this week Washington was considering imposing sanctions on seven Belarusians it believes were involved in falsifying the election results and in violence against peaceful protesters.

The EU is still negotiating the exact list of people to be hit with travel bans and asset freezes when its foreign ministers meet on Sept. 21, diplomatic sources said.

Belarus is a close ally of Moscow, which sees it as a vital strategic buffer between Russia and NATO.

Lukashenko has accused foreign powers of being behind the protests, but has provided no evidence. The opposition has denied that there is foreign involvement in the protests and NATO has also denied his allegations that it is massing forces near the Belarusian border.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay, David Brunnstrom in Washington and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Frances Kerry

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