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OSCE chairman renews offer to facilitate dialogue in Belarus

VIENNA (Reuters) - The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Friday renewed an offer to Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to facilitate dialogue with the opposition.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who holds the rotating OSCE chairmanship and will be succeeded by Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde in December, offered here with Linde last week to visit Belarus in the aftermath of the Aug. 9 presidential election that the opposition says was rigged.

“We truly hope that there will be a positive response to this offer from the government of Belarus,” Rama said in a speech to a special meeting of all 57 OSCE participating states.

The OSCE, a rights and security body including former Cold War adversaries the United States and Russia, former Soviet states and European Union members, often carries out election observer missions but could not do so in Belarus because it was not invited to by the government.

Nationwide protests have followed the presidential election. The government’s response has included “a disproportionate use of force, widespread detentions, restrictions on freedom of the media and access to information and communications,” Rama said.

“There must be dialogue between the government and the forces opposed to them, as we can play a role in helping that dialogue. The sooner it starts, the better it is for everyone,” Rama said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week the OSCE could play an important role in Belarus, but Rama said it was not seeking to mediate but rather to act as a facilitator “to help Belarus out of this nightmare”.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Angus MacSwan