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Belarus denies visas to two European poll observers

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(MINSK) - Belarus has denied visas to two observers who planned to monitor Sunday's parliamentary polls in the isolated country for the OSCE mission, Europe's security and rights body said Wednesday.

"Two parliament members from Germany and Lithuania who planned to observe the elections were told they would be denied visas" by the Belarussian foreign ministry, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly said.

Visa denials to European lawmakers from international observer missions are extremely rare, and the last time Minsk barred foreign observers was in 2006, said spokesman for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Neil Simon.

Simon named the two banned observers as Marieluise Beck from Germany and Emanuelis Zingeris from Lithuania.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had previously received assurances from Minsk that observers would face no restrictions in Belarus, he said in emailed comments to AFP.

"We have not yet heard an explanation from Minsk as to why the visas were denied," he said, adding that Beck had been active in promoting human rights in Belarus and reached out to activists in the ex-Soviet country.

Both Beck and Zingeris are members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as well as their native countries' parliaments.

Zingeris told AFP, "I have just been informed about the negative answer, that I will be denied a visa. This is a response not only to Lithuania but to an international organisation, the OSCE."

"It shows that our goodwill regarding any positive change in the regime has proven wrong, and the elections to parliament have a certain direction, planned in advance," he added.

Belarus has become increasingly isolated from Europe since the crackdown on dissent after the controversial 2010 presidential election, which handed President Alexander Lukashenko a historic fourth term.

The European Union responded with economic sanctions and issued travel bans against nearly 250 people in the Belarussian government and court system.

Most recently, Minsk expelled all of Sweden's diplomats from the country after a group of Swedish nationals dropped hundreds of teddy bears with pro-human rights slogans from a light plane over Belarus.

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