WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department on Friday criticized Belarus for not inviting European observers to monitor next month's presidential election.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should be on hand ``to determine to what extent the election process is legitimate,'' spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement.

Observers should have been invited to Belarus on Aug. 1 to begin their work, he said. The election is scheduled for Sept. 9.

The Minsk government has failed to end a climate of fear, is not giving equal access to the state media to all candidates and is not respecting freedom of assembly, Boucher said.

Last week, the department denounced Belarus authorities for seizing U.S.-supplied equipment designed to assist the country's democratic opposition ahead of the presidential elections.