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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Urges Free Poll in Minsk

MINSK, Belarus -- An official from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly has urged Belarus to hold fair parliamentary elections next year and release opposition figures.

"Dialogue between all political forces is the only way to solve the current political crisis ... in order to prepare the conditions for holding free and fair elections in Belarus next year," Wolfgang Behrendt said Wednesday at a news conference.

Behrendt, in Belarus to help prepare an annual report on the country to be presented in January, said the independence of Minsk's judiciary and division of powers were vital if relations between Belarus and Europe were to be repaired.

Other conditions included the existence of democratic election legislation and respect for freedom of expression, including fair access to media for the opposition.

Western countries including the European Union have had a rocky relationship with Belarus since President Alexander Lukashenko disbanded parliament, lengthened his term of office and increased his powers in a controversial referendum in 1996.