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US Criticizes Lukashenko - 2001-08-28

The United States says the Belarus government of President Alexander Lukashenko is intimidating journalists and democracy activists in advance of next month's presidential election.

The State Department is accusing President Lukashenko and his supporters of a list of abuses that it says are undermining international confidence in the election process in the former Soviet republic.

Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Belarus authorities this month have among other things sealed the offices of an opposition printing house, confiscated 400,000 copies of an independent newspaper's election special, and arrested an American trade union expert working with local unions on election issues.

All this, he said is in addition to charges taken seriously by the United States that a government-run death squad is responsible for the disappearance of several pro-democracy activists. "The incidents are just a few examples of how the Lukashenko regime regularly obstructs and impedes the electoral process," he said. "Such acts can only serve to undermine the international community's confidence that the Belarussian authorities are committed to holding a free and fair presidential election."

Mr. Boucher repeated the U.S. call for an independent and public investigation of the death-squad charges, which were raised last month by two former officials of the Belarus state prosecutors' office who have been given asylum in the United States.

Mr. Lukashenko, who has run the country in an increasingly-authoritarian fashion since coming to power in 1994, is seeking another term in the September 9 election.

Opposition factions have united around the compromise candidacy of Vladimir Goncharik, a former Soviet labor leader.

Mr. Boucher said that while OSCE officials have been invited to monitor the election, the Lukashenko government has denied visas to some observers, and that it is "difficult to have any confidence" the Belarus voting will be free and fair.