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Baltic leaders urge Belarus to hold 'free and fair' elections

VILNIUS (Reuters) – The prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania called on Belarus on Saturday to conduct new “free and fair” elections as protests swelled against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed poll victory.

A new vote should be held transparently with the participation of international observers, the leaders said in a statement after meeting in Estonia.

Lukashenko’s claimed landslide re-election victory last Sunday has been branded a fraud by protesters, and the European Union took the first step on Friday towards imposing new sanctions on Belarus over it.

Opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania early on Tuesday, has called for more protests and an election recount.

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Friday marked a sixth consecutive day of street demonstrations against Lukashenko.

Facing the biggest challenge to his authority during his 26 years in power, he has warned people to stay at home to avoid becoming “cannon fodder” for what he has labelled foreign-backed revolutionaries.

The Baltic leaders urged Belarus to refrain from violence and release political prisoners and detained protesters.

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