Clinton chastises Russia, denounces Belarus

6th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chastised Russia Tuesday for what she called its flawed parliamentary polls, and denounced ex-Soviet Belarus for persecuting democracy campaigners.

Speaking at a high-level meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Clinton said polls that were "neither free nor fair" in Russia and other nations served only to undermine the people's confidence in their rulers.

During a visit to Germany on Monday, Clinton had flagged US concerns about Russia's elections, which delivered a victory for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, albeit with a reduced majority.

The 56-nation OSCE's members include the United States and Russia, but the organisation's election monitoring arm has locked horns with Moscow over past ballots.

After Sunday's polls, OSCE observers highlighted violations including ballot-box stuffing.

In a speech at the start of the two-day OSCE meeting in Lithuania, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not respond to Moscow's critics.

Instead, he took to the podium to denounce what he called the deliberate misuse of United Nations resolutions for "illegal ends" in conflicts, blasting "double standards".

Lavrov did not elaborate, but his remarks appeared to reiterate accusations that the West is stirring the Syrian crisis by telling the opposition to forget dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad.

Clinton also took aim at Lithuania's ex-Soviet neighbour Belarus, where strongman President Alexander Lukashenko has jailed a string of political opponents in defiance of a series of longstanding US and European Union sanctions.

"In Belarus, less than 40 kilometers (24 miles) away from here, human rights defenders face unremitting persecution," Clinton said.

Ahead of a meeting here with Belarussian activists, Clinton highlighted the case of of Ales Beliatsky , jailed for more than four years in prison for tax evasion but "whose real crime in the eyes of the state was helping victims of state repression."

She also came to the defence of former presidential candidates from the democratic opposition, Andrei Sannikov and Mikhail Statkevich, who remain imprisoned a year after crackdown on protests against the re-election of Lukashenko, in power since 1994.

Clinton mentioned the fate of other prisoners whose release Washington has frequently demanded.

She raised the case of Ukraine's opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko who was jailed for seven years in October in what has been described as a political vendetta by President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych clinched a narrow victory over Tymoshenko last year in a bitter poll.

"We witness prosecutions, such as that of Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine, which raises serious questions about political motivations," said Clinton.

She cited this as a setback for democratic institutions, the rule of law and electoral processes in some former Soviet states.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis told AFP earlier that Clinton's visit would "support and encourage all democratic forces in the region".

Former Soviet-ruled Lithuania, a European Union member since 2004, is wrapping up its year-long term at the helm of the OSCE. Ireland takes over in 2012.

The OSCE, which aims to monitor and encourage democracy and human rights in order to enhance security, was spun out of a body created to ease Cold War tensions.

© 2011 AFP

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