News / Europe

Belarus President Races Sanctions to Inauguration

Incumbent Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko before a news conference after preliminary election results show him overwhelmingly winning a fourth term in Minsk,  Dec. 20, 2010.
Incumbent Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko before a news conference after preliminary election results show him overwhelmingly winning a fourth term in Minsk, Dec. 20, 2010.
James Brooke

One month after presidential elections disintegrated into a massive crackdown on democratic rights in Belarus, the country's president faces a rising tide of international opposition.  

Alexander Lukashenko appears to be scheduling his inauguration for a fourth term as Belarus president for Friday.  The timing is so hurried that no foreign leaders or journalists are expected to attend.

The burly mustachioed leader, often called the last dictator in Europe, is suddenly racing the spreading skepticism about his claim to victory in the December 19 presidential elections.

Last weekend, Markus Loening, Germany’s highest ranking envoy to visit Minsk since the vote, bluntly told the Belarus government the only way to avoid sanctions will be to release all political prisoners and to hold new elections.

The European Parliament is expected to approve a resolution calling for a free and fair repeat of the presidential vote.  The resolution will also condemn the ongoing wave of arrests in Belarus, a crackdown that jailed seven of the nine opposition candidates.

In neighboring Poland, the vicious nature of the Belarus crackdown evoked memories of 1981 when the communist government declared martial law against the Solidarity trade union movement.  Backed by public opinion, Poland is doubling its spending on dissident broadcasting to Belarus, is opening universities to students expelled from Belarus universities, and has abolished visa fees for Belarussians.

Polish media reports Warsaw has banned travel to Poland by President Lukashenko and top government members.

On January 31, EU foreign ministers are expected to approve similar travel bans for all 27 member nations.

European Council on Foreign Relations Belarus expert Jana Kobzova watches the growing sanctions movement from London. "The overall purpose of the sanctions is to punish.  It is not to change the regime, it is to punish those who took part in the crackdown or who okayed the crackdown," she said.

She said the European Union wants to take clear action on Belarus, in order to gain credibility with governments that crack down on human rights in other places, such as Tunisia, Ukraine and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have issued a joint statement condemning the elections. Separately, Clinton and Ashton met recently with Belarussian human-rights activists.

In face of this growing isolation, Sovietskaya Belorussia, a government-owned newspaper, charged Friday the secret services of Germany and Poland plotted last fall to overthrow the Lukashenko government.  The next day, the newspaper charged Western ambassadors encouraged the mass protest demonstration after the election.

Riot police broke the protest up so violently that Belarus’ opposition now call December 19 ‘Bloody Sunday.’  The opposition has petitioned the Guiness Book of Records to have President Lukashenko recognized for arresting a record number of presidential candidates.

Conducted by a security agency still called the KGB, the raids and arrests continue daily.  KGB agents have closed an independent radio station, seized computers from human-rights groups, and threatened to disbar defense lawyers for opposition politicians.  They have detained and interrogated thousands of people simply because cell phone records show they were near the protest the night of December 19.

A reporter for opposition newspaper Nasha Niva, Aleksandr Kidritsky, spoke by telephone from Minsk. "The circle of people are who are being targeted, or even better to say, affected by this wide-scale harassment, this circle is really big right now.  I cannot predict when it will stop," he said.

President Lukashenko’s fear may be that economic hard times are ahead.

A former collective farm manager, he long subsidized his country’s economy by buying oil cheap from Russia and then reselling it at higher prices to Europe.

But now, the Kremlin is putting the squeeze on Belarus.  Last year, Russian oil exports to Belarus dropped by 40 percent.  On January 1, they stopped altogether.

Belarus’ Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich is to meet Thursday with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow to try to establish a new price.

When the oil starts flowing again, it is expected to be at a price that will starve the Belarus budget of billions of dollars of subsidies.  Last week, gas and gasoline prices were hiked by 10 percent.

Foreign help is not in sight.  Last week, Belarus’ prime minister reported that since 2008, the national public and corporate debt of Belarus has increased 10 times.

Kobzova, the Belarus expert, said the Minsk government looked at the worsening economic picture and decided to tighten political control. "People basically stopped fearing Lukashenko and the regime the way they did before.  There were so many people on the square who came not to support the opposition, but basically to express their disappointment with the system, the way the vote is always rigged, the way they do not have a say in the way the country is going.  That is why the regime had to crack down - to spread the fear again," she said.

For some, this tactic is not working.  The opposition, which was split among nine candidates last fall, united last week creating the National Coordination Council of the Democratic Opposition.

Charter 97, the main website of the opposition, now routinely refers to the Belarus president as ‘the usurper."

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid