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European monitors might fail to make objective conclusions on the upcoming elections in Belarus and Ukraine
European monitors might fail to make objective conclusions on the upcoming elections in Belarus and Ukraine, which means universal monitoring criteria should be adopted, a deputy Russian foreign minister told RIA Novosti Monday. Speaking about the upcoming monitoring mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a body within the world's largest regional security grouping, Grigory Karasin said: "There are fears that the election verdicts offered by the ODIHR will again be ideologically tinted." The ODIHR, part of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors elections, human rights, and democracy across the world, is currently forming a mission to cover the March 19 presidential poll in Belarus and the parliamentary vote in Ukraine on March 26. Russia and other countries have accused the organization of focusing on promoting democratic institutions in eastern Europe and ignoring abuses elsewhere, or applying what Russia calls "double standards" in its activities. The Russian Foreign Ministry has consistently called for the security grouping to undergo a thorough reform. "The most important criterion here remains objectivity and impartiality in assessing preparing for and the voting itself," the deputy minister said. "Otherwise, the institution of monitoring is discredited." Karasin, who pointed to a "geographic imbalance" in the monitoring body's activities, said the mission would comprise observers from other organizations, including NATO's Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament, where Belarus was not represented. He added that observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose union of former Soviet republics including Ukraine and Belarus, had not been invited to join the international mission. The CIS, however, plans to send its own monitors to Belarus, as does Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union State. Russian members of parliament, CEC officials, and members of the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly will also monitor the poll in Ukraine. Karasin said the OSCE's Needs Assessment Mission, which delivers preliminary findings and conclusions, had already criticized the political situation in the former Soviet republics and made "far-reaching" conclusions that influenced international public opinion. The diplomat said the Council of Europe, which aims to defend humans rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, had to adopt a convention to set out universal election criteria. He added Russia had already put forward a proposal to the organization, but the reaction had been unenthusiastic. However, according to the diplomat, the ODIHR is set to change its monitoring practices and report on them to the OSCE's next ministerial session in Brussels. Karasin also said Russia planned to hand out questionnaires at the OSCE concerning ODIHR activities. The surveys will also set out Russia's concerns and contain recommendations to improve the office's performance. Russian politicians have accused foreign organizations of supporting the incumbent Western-leaning Ukrainian government, which came to power following the "orange revolution" in early 2005, and officials have reported violations in the run-up to the elections in the country. Belarus and its leader, Alexander Lukashenko, which Washington has dubbed "Europe's last dictator," have been continuously criticized by European officials highlighting massive human rights breaches in the country. On Thursday, the PACE president issued a statement charging Lukashenko with creating a climate of intimidation against opposition candidates, citing the arrest and trial of youth activists, and an assault on presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin. Belarusian officials dismissed the criticism, saying those were provocative acts staged on purpose. In an interview on Russian television Saturday, Lukashenko said he had ordered the authorities to take every measure to ensure opposition leaders' security and prevent further provocations.
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