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UN rights envoy urges Belarus to free protesters

Written by: Staff

GENEVA, Mar 23 (Reuters) A United Nations rights envoy today called for the release of demonstrators arrested after a weekend presidential election in Belarus that international observers have rejected as unfair.

Adrian Severin, the U N special rapporteur on the situation of human rights of Belarus, said that more than 100 people protesting Alexander Lukashenko's runaway victory were detained and many others were blocked from joining demonstrations.

In a statement issued in Geneva, he urged authorities ''to release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners, and to bring all violations of freedom of expression and of the right of peaceful assembly to an immediate end.'' About 300 opposition supporters today kept up protests for a fifth day in October Square in the capital Minsk.

Severin, a former Romanian foreign minister serving in the independent post, had also criticized Belarus in the lead-up to the March 19 poll for a crackdown against opposition candidates, political activists and the press.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Europe's largest human rights body, has said the election fell far short of accepted standards and was neither free nor fair.

The United States, which accuses Lukashenko of abandoning democratic principles and engaging in human rights abuses, has said the vote took place ''in a climate of fear'' and backed calls for a new election.

Reuters DKS DB1816

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