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U.N. rights body agrees to hold urgent debate on Belarus

FILE PHOTO: President of the Human Rights Council Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, wearing a protective face mask, attends the resuming of a United Nations Human Rights Council session before an urgent debate on allegations of "systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests" in the United States following the death of George Floyd druing the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, June 15, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/Pool via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) - The Human Rights Council agreed on Monday to an EU proposal to hold an urgent debate on the human rights situation in Belarus as the U.N. rights chief described “alarming” reports of repression since a disputed election last month.

The EU and other critics accuse Belarusian authorities of detaining opposition leaders and cracking down on peaceful protesters opposed to Alexander Lukashenko who officially won re-election last month.

The Council’s President Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger said 25 members of the council voted in favour and two against, with 20 abstentions, meaning the motion was adopted. The debate is scheduled for Friday.

“Reports continue to indicate unnecessary or excessive use of force by law enforcement officials,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said of the situation, adding that there was “limited evidence” of any steps by authorities to address these violations.

Belarus, which is not a member of the council, vigorously opposed the EU proposal brought by Germany, describing it as a “deplorable” and a violation of international law.

The EU “is creating the conditions for preserving this political standoff in the society of Belarus”, said ambassador Yury Ambrazevich.

Several European countries voiced support for the motion.

“The situation on the ground clearly warrants an urgent debate. The human rights council should not stay silent on this matter,” said German Ambassador Michael von Ungern-Sternberg. Objections were from Venezuela and the Philippines.

Reporting by Emma Farge and Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Peter Graff