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Friday, March 24, 2006

Post Elections special: Opinions from around the world

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Lidia Yermoshina: inauguration of president of Belarus to take place March 31

The inauguration of the president of Belarus will take place on March 31, Lidia Yermoshina, chairperson of the central election commission (CEC), told reporters following the presentation of the official results of the poll.

Having won 83 per cent of the votes, incumbent president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko came first in the presidential race. The third presidential term for the effective president starts after the inauguration ceremony.

Talking to reporters, Lidia Yermoshina named the election campaign “absolutely brilliant”. According to her, tensions fueled by certain candidates for the presidency were “artificial and groundless”. The CEC chief added that the central election commission was incompetent to tell whether actions of those people broke the Criminal or Administrative Codes. According to her, these are law enforcement agencies who are to determine the degree of the guilt, in particular - the General Prosecutor’s Office.

Belarus opposition has no right to claim ballot rigging-official


Any violations that had occurred during the election were purely technical
A senior figure in the loose association of states that replaced the Soviet Union said Wednesday that the Belarusian opposition had no moral right to allege widespread ballot rigging in the recent presidential election.

With the opposition disputing President Alexander Lukashenko's landslide victory in Sunday's vote, Vladimir Rushailo, the head of the poll's monitoring mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States, said, "The opposition has absolutely no moral right to talk about mass ballot rigging or that we do not recognize the election results."

The former Russian interior minister, who is also the chairman of the influential CIS Executive Committee, said he had met with the leading opposition runner in the election, Alexander Milinkevich, and had great respect for him as a presidential candidate.

But he dismissed a protest currently being staged by about 300 people on the capital's main square.

"As far as the tent camp is concerned, we have seen it all before and know who stands behind this," said Rushailo, in a thinly veiled swipe at foreign governments, who many Russian politicians suspect of financing the mass demonstrations in Ukraine and Georgia that followed presidential elections there and led to a pro-Western change in power.

He said that the protesters in Minsk constituted "a tiny fraction of the total electorate."

The chairman of the CIS Executive Committee also said that any violations that had occurred during the election were purely technical.

Vaclav Klaus will not congratulate Lukashenka
Czech President Vaclav Klaus is "grousing" about Belarus' insistance on not folowing (like a dog) the EU
Czech President Vaclav Klaus will not congratulate his Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on re-election as president, Presidential Office spokesman Petr Hajek said Tuesday.

According to Klaus, the course of the presidential elections onSunday confirmed his fears for democracy in Belarus. Klaus expressed his concern in a letter to Lukashenko last year but he has not yet received an answer from him, Hajek said.

According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers, the elections did not meet its criteria and international standards.

In his last year's letter, Klaus criticized very disputable circumstances of the parliamentary elections and the changes in the constitution that allowed Lukashenko to run for the post againafter two election terms.

In the letter, Klaus also criticized the violation of fundamental civic rights and freedoms and the persecution of the Belarussian opposition.

"The situation before the recent presidential elections and their course have led Klaus to believe that his reservations aboutthe situation in Belarus are fully valid," Hajek said.

The European Union denounced the Sunday presidential elections in Belarus on Monday. According to the EU foreign ministers, the elections were not just and were marked by systematic intimidationof opposition politicians and activists. The minister postponed the decision on possible sanctions against the regime of PresidentLukashenko until their next meeting.

Belarus Leader to Be Inaugurated Swiftly
Lukashenko, a former collective farm director, is genuinely popular with many Belarusians who credit him with providing economic and political stability.
Election officials in Belarus made plans Thursday for a swift inauguration of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, apparently aiming to entrench him in a new five-year term amid persistent protests over a disputed vote condemned by the West.

Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich said assailants attacked a top aide, one of the latest incidents in what a leading international security body called a campaign of persecution against Belarusians challenging Lukashenko's landslide win.

Daily demonstrations have drawn thousands of people to a main Minsk square, where a few hundred have kept up a round-the-clock vigil in a tent camp since the day after Sunday's election despite freezing temperatures.

The protests are unprecedented in this former Soviet republic, where Lukashenko has been silencing dissent since his first election in 1994, but such numbers appear unlikely to force a new election in the tightly controlled nation of 10 million.

Viktor Korniyenko, a deputy chief on Milinkevich's staff, was beaten by two assailants in the entrance to his apartment building and was hospitalized in serious condition, opposition spokesman Pavel Mazheika said.

``They are hitting us where it hurts,'' Milinkevich told The Associated Press after visiting Korniyenko in a hospital. ``The authorities have stepped up their repressions,'' he said, adding that such actions ``cannot break the will for victory.''

The attack came a day after state television broadcast a recording of an alleged conversation in which Korniyenko consulted with a Polish NGO, the Batory Foundation, on strategies for protests against Lukashenko's third term.

According to a transcript of the recording, printed Thursday on the front page of the newspaper published by Lukashenko's administration, the representative told Korniyenko that opposition leaders should not urge a halt to protests on Oktyabrskaya Square and should boost the size of the protest tent camp.

The allegations fit in with Lukashenko's repeated claims that the opposition is supported by Western forces seeking to bring him down and control Belarus. State television has also broadcast reports saying the protests are financed by Western embassies, allegations the diplomatic missions deny.

The Central Election Commission released final election results saying Lukashenko received 83 percent of the vote and Milinkevich just 6.1 percent. The commission chief, Lidiya Yermoshina, said the inauguration would take place March 31, but its secretary Nikolai Lozovik told The Associated Press that date was tentative and that it would probably be held later.

Lukashenko, a former collective farm director, is genuinely popular with many Belarusians who credit him with providing economic and political stability. But Milinkevich says Lukashenko's official tally is ``monstrously inflated'' and is calling for a new vote.

Early Thursday, he told tent camp residents entering the fourth day of their protest that they had defied expectations by maintaining their vigil for so long.

Milinkevich said that although the demonstrations have been comparatively small and have not succeeded in achieving their demand of new elections, they represented a big step forward.

``Nobody had expected what has happened here,'' he said.

Police have not moved to disperse the protesters, but they have picked up many would-be participants and supporters. Some have been released and others tried and sentenced, usually to a week or two in jail.

A top trans-Atlantic democracy and security body said Thursday it had information of about 200 detentions in the three days following the election, and called on authorities to release those detained in connection with the protest.

``The Belarusian authorities must immediately put an end to the persecution of their opponents,'' the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Karel de Gucht, said in a statement.

The European Union said Thursday it was consulting neighboring countries before deciding on any sanctions against Belarusian officials following the re-election of Lukashenko, who has been branded as Europe's last dictator.

Gearing up for a major test of strength, Milinkevich emphasized his call for protesters to come out in force on Saturday, the anniversary of the declaration of the first, short-lived independent Belarusian republic in 1918.

Since 2003, protests over election fraud in the former Soviet nations of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan swept opposition leaders to power. Lukashenko has accused the West of plotting a repeat in Belarus and vowed to prevent it.

Belarus CEC turns down demand to review polls results

Alexander Kozulin simply cannot get Belarusians to agree with him
Belarus opposition leader Alexander Kozulin and his campaign headquarters staff are currently working on the plan to set up an alternative government in the country, said Wednesday.

The “people’s trust government” project will then be introduced to the political council of Belarus democratiс forces.

“We are currently developing a proposition to the political council of democratic forces to set up the government of people’s trust,” press secretary for Alexander Kozulin told Interfax.

Kozulin’s staff are negotiating with political and social Belarus activists over the possible work format for the alternative government, the press secretary added.

It is too early to say who will take part in the forming of the new government, she said.

Thousands of Belarusians have been demonstrating on a central Minsk square for four days, swelling the ranks of a core group that had spent the previous night to protest the extension of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko’s rule.

In other developments, Belarus' Central Electoral Commission turned down the demand by losing presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin to invalidate the election results.

CEC chairwoman Lidiya Yermoshina noted that Kozulin's complaint "does not state the legally substantiated facts of violations of the election legislation which might have affected voting results."

The complaint, which was sent to the Central Election Commission on March 20, cited results of monitoring violations of Belarussian election law both during the formation of election commissions, the collection of signatures for candidate registration and the actual election campaign.

Alexander Lukashenko’s landslide victory over opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich last Sunday sparked a wave of protests in
Minsk’s downtown Oktyabrskaya Square, where thousands of Belarussians cheered as Milinkevich called the incumbent leader’s presidency illegal and demanded a rerun of the election.

U.S. and European leaders and observers also denounced the authoritarian leader’s victory as the product of a climate of fear and repression.

"The detected violations were of procedural character and do not influence the election results," Yermoshina said.

Kozulin netted 2.3 percent of votes. Incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won the election in a landslide, with 82.6 percent of votes.

Belarus election protesters wary of police

What differs between the Ukrainian so-called revolution and this rather lifeless affair Belarus is producing is that in Ukraine, the guy the opposition wanted actually won the election.
MINSK, Belarus -- Inga made a stack of pancakes, packed them carefully in her bag and sped to a small tent camp in the center of Minsk, eager to provide homemade food to opposition activists.

But her plans were cut short by beefy police officers who intercepted the 19-year-old student, locked her in a detention cell and force-fed her all the food she had prepared.

"I was crying already after the third pancake, but they laughed and said, 'Keep going!'" Inga, who declined to give her last name out for fear of being expelled from her university, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Despite widespread fears, Belarusian law enforcers so far have not taken any direct action to disperse demonstrators camped out in one of the capital's central squares since Sunday, when authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko overwhelmingly won a third term in a vote the opposition and the West dismissed as rigged.

Instead, activists say, authorities have resorted to detaining, harassing and otherwise intimidating scores of protesters on the sidelines of the square - including support people like Inga who keep the demonstration going by providing food, clothing and other necessities.

Irina Dorofeichuk, a 36-year-old management teacher, was sentenced to seven days on charges of hooliganism after police officers accused her of cursing. The real reason, she says, is that she was carrying food and warm clothing to the protesters.

"I didn't believe that something like that could happen to me in the 21st century in Europe," Dorofeichuk told AP. "All the authorities want is to humiliate your human dignity."

Residents of the tiny tent camp are feeling the authorities' pressure in other ways. Lights on the usually festive square were turned off, prompting protesters to light their tent city with candles.

On Wednesday, city workers welded shut a sewage hatch that protesters had been using as a toilet. Many fear this will make them more vulnerable to detention by policemen when the activists leave the camp.

Activist Mikhail Avdeyev experienced that firsthand. He said he was going to buy a pack of cigarettes when three riot policemen beat him up. He showed an AP reporter multiple bruises on his face and chest. "They beat and treat you like dogs," he said bitterly.

Police declined to comment on whether they would resort to force to disperse the protesters. But riot police regiment commander Yury Podobed told reporters that the rally would not be suppressed, the Interfax news agency reported.

At any rate, the number of protesters seemed insufficient to push the government for political change. Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate who challenged Lukashenko, has told activists they had already scored a huge victory by speaking out against the authorities.

Many activists intended to keep up their protest.

"They beat me up, but I am still standing here for Belarus," Avdeyev said. "No matter how many blues, bruises, cuts and shots on my body I will stay here till the end with everybody, with my brothers and sisters who want freedom for our Belarus."

After the results of Sunday's election were announced, thousands of protesters thronged the square calling for a new vote - an unprecedented act in Belarus, which has a history of imprisoning opposition figures and violently breaking up rallies.

Even though the number of protesters is much smaller than the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who ushered opposition leaders to power in Georgia and Ukraine, authorities are still intent on curbing the protest, which they see as embarrassing.

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President briefs participating States on Belarus election
U.S. Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Alcee L. Hastings told the Organization's 55 participating States at a special meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council that the Parliamentary Assembly was willing to "continue dialogue with the Belarusian parliament as well as other authorities in Belarus."

Speaking about his role as Special Co-ordinator of the OSCE election observation mission to the 19 March presidential election in Belarus and the mission's preliminary statement that the polls had failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections, he said:

"The right to vote, the right to have your vote counted as well as the right to run for office and carry out a campaign in an atmosphere free of pressure and intimidation is a fundamental requirement for democracy."

"The Belarusian people deserve better," he said.

"Having said all of this, I would like to encourage the Government of Belarus and all of us to continue to work to support the development of democracy in Belarus. The criticism that was presented yesterday was done so in a constructive spirit," Hastings added.

In his speech, Hastings also stressed the Assembly's general role in the OSCE's election observation activities.

"As politicians who have fought elections themselves, parliamentarians have particular expertise in political campaigns and electoral processes, bringing added credibility to the conclusions of OSCE observation missions," he said.

Hastings, a United States Congressman from Florida, was also appointed by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, as Special Co-ordinator for the election observation mission for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine on 26 March.

Belarus Opposition Leader Urges Solidarity

St. Petersburg Times
A supporter of opposition presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich sits in front of his tent with about 300 other supporters in the center of Minsk on Thursday morning.
MINSK — Assailants attacked an aide to the opposition leader in Belarus on Thursday after state television broadcast a recording of an alleged conversation in which he consulted with a Polish NGO on protest strategies, an opposition spokesman said.

The alleged beating was among the latest incidents in what opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich called a campaign of persecution against Belarussians challenging authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election.

The vote has been denounced by his domestic opponents and Western critics as deeply undemocratic. Belarussian election officials have rejected formal opposition complaints challenging the vote.

Viktor Korniyenko, a deputy chief on Milinkevich’s staff, was beaten by two assailants in the entranceway to his apartment building, Milinkevich spokesman Pavel Mazheika said. The attackers clubbed Korniyenko on the head and he was hospitalized in serious condition, Mazheika said.

On Wednesday, state-run television broadcast what it characterized as a recorded phone conversation between Korniyenko and a representative of the Batory Foundation, a Polish-based nongovernmental organization that has conducted democracy-support programs in Belarus.

The representative told Korniyenko that opposition leaders should not urge a halt to protests on Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad and should boost the size of the protest tent camp where young demonstrators are maintaining a constant vigil, according to a transcript of the alleged conversation.

It was printed Thursday on the front page of the newspaper published by Lukashenko’s administration.

The state-media reports about the alleged conversation fit in with Lukashenko’s repeated claims that the opposition is supported by Western forces seeking to bring him down and control Belarus. State television has also broadcast reports saying the protests are financed by Western embassies, allegations the diplomatic missions deny.

The Central Elections Commission on Thursday declared Lukashenko the official winner of Sunday’s election, saying final results showed he received 83 percent of the vote, compared to 6.1 percent for Milinkevich, the state news agency Belta reported. The official results differed little from preliminary results issued Monday.

Milinkevich says Lukashenko’s official tally is “monstrously inflated” and is calling for a new vote.

Early Thursday, he told tent camp residents entering the fourth day of an around-the-clock vigil that they had defied expectations by maintaining their vigil as long as they have.

About 200 people occupied part of the freezing downtown square overnight, keeping a toehold for the opposition between rallies that have brought out thousands of people each night this week.

Milinkevich said that although the demonstrations have been comparatively small and have not succeeded in achieving their demand of new elections, they represented a big step forward.

“Nobody had expected what has happened here,” he said.

Police have not moved to disperse the protesters, but they have picked up many would-be participants and supporters. The human rights center Vyasna said that more than 150 people have been detained in connection with the protests against the election, some of them released but others tried and sentenced – usually to a week or two behind bars.

“We must defend one another,” Milinkevich told a crowd of about 4,000 in Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad on Wednesday night. “The authorities are violating the law, they have organized large-scale repression.”

Gearing up for a major test of strength, Milinkevich emphasized his call for protesters to come out in force on Saturday, the anniversary of the declaration of the first, short-lived independent Belarussian republic in 1918.

Vyasna said Thursday that 20 to 30 people were detained near the square overnight.

The Interior Ministry said police had detained about 15 people over the previous 24 hours for taking part in the unsanctioned protest, the Interfax news agency reported. The ministry declined to comment.

The persistent protest is unprecedented, as Lukashenko has been silencing dissent since his first election in 1994, but opposition leaders acknowledge the crowd in a corner of the square is not big enough to force a new election.

How not to freeze while on protest in Belarus
The weather mixed with the reality of a landslide verdict against makes for some cold and lonely going in the tents
How to spend the night in a protest rally and not freeze, or bring food to protestors and not be molested by the police? Ask those Belarussian websites not yet shut down by the authorities.

As hundreds of mostly young people camped out on the main square of Minsk to protest the Sunday election that saw authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko claim victory, many people were afraid to bring out water and food for fear of being arrested, the United Civilian party website said.

"Do not be rude when the police are around, do not provoke them to use force. If food and thermal containers are confiscated, ask the police to protocol it, as it is your personal property. You can record your conversation with them, but warn them beforehand," the website advised.

As for those already out in the square but seeking not to freeze, philosopher Valentin Akudovich shared his own experience in the tent camp on the Khopits (Enough!) website.

According to Akudovich, protesters should cover and line tents with plastic, make sure they have warm blankets, several pairs of socks and drink hot tea, coffee or gravy to keep from freezing.

They should also sleep in a warm hat, preferably a knitted one, with their head to the tent flap so that they could get out quickly in case of attack, Akudovich added.

Protests began as soon as polls closed, with more than 10 000 people gathering on October Square.

Since then, each evening has seen a progressively smaller protest -- 5 000 on Monday, 3 000 to 4 000 on Tuesday -- although the hardcore group spending the whole night outside rose from 300 to 1 000 on Tuesday.

Elections in Belarus held perfectly

The CIS observers have had little bad to say about the elections in general
Secretary General of the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly Council Mikhail Krotov believes that “the elections in Belarus were held perfectly.” He has made a statement at a news conference in Petersburg on Thursday.

As many as 467 observers from the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly monitored the presidential elections in Belarus, Mikhail Krotov emphasized. Meanwhile, 60 deputies have observed the election campaign in all Belarussian regions for three months, the others began monitoring it 7-10 days before the elections. “According to observers, the elections were held in a democratic way and very calmly,” the secretary general pointed out. They registered no serious violations that could influence the election returns, he remarked.

Krotov noted that western observers from international organisations, particularly from the OSCE, told their colleagues from the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly that the elections were held calmly and without obvious violations.
S observers

Sergei Markov: Belarus no less democratic than Latvia, Estonia - analyst

Sergei Markov
Two of the European Union's newest members are less democratic than the much-criticized Belarus, a prominent Russian political scientist said Thursday.

Sergei Markov, the head of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Studies, criticized Belarus' former Soviet stable mates, Latvia and Estonia, which joined the EU in 2004, for effectively disenfranchising a quarter of their population and weighed into the debate about whether sanctions should be levied against Minsk following the incumbent leader's disputed recent landslide reelection.

"Latvia and Estonia are less democratic states than Belarus," he said. "As far as sanctions are concerned, they should be imposed on Latvia and Estonia, which have completely excluded 25% of their residents from political life."

Relations between Russia and the two Baltic states have long been marred by controversy over the status of ethnic Russians, who Moscow has often stated are deprived of basic rights.

Markov dismissed Western criticism of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who Washington has dubbed "Europe's last dictator" for his authoritarian regime, saying that he had rescued the country from some of the pitfalls that other newly independent countries fell into after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"People in Belarus consider Lukashenko to be the [country's] savior from oligarchs and gangsters," he said.

Although the Belarusian opposition and European bodies have questioned Lukashenko's 83% election triumph on Sunday, the 51-year-old former collective farm boss, who has been in power since 1994, is known to have support in his homeland for providing relative economic stability in comparison with other former Soviet states.

Markov said Lukashenko had achieved great economic success.

"The [country's] trade with the European Union is at a higher level than with Russia," he said.

The political scientist said that the West would put more pressure on Belarus after the reelection of Lukashenko, who refused to join the "Western anti-Russian coalition and to create a so-called cordon sanitaire around Russia."

He added that Belarus would need investment in the future and one possible way to obtain it would be through a long-discussed union with Russia, based on a model of "one country - two systems."

The idea of a union state first emerged in 1997 to foster political and economic integration, in particular by standardizing taxes and tariffs, but has largely remained on paper. Belarus was to have adopted the Russian ruble as a single currency for the state in 2005, but the move has been postponed.

Sunday's elections in Belarus were held amid intense international scrutiny and what Lukashenko Monday termed "unprecedented pressure from abroad" and an "aggressive opposition profile".

Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose union of ex-Soviet republics, said the elections in Belarus were in line with international standards. The United States and the European Union, however, have called for a re-run and said they are considering imposing sanctions against Belarus.

Ex-Kyrgyz president upbeat about Belarus elections

Askar Akayev
Former President of Kyrgyzstan Askar Akayev said Wednesday he was pleased with the victory of the incumbent Belarus president at the recent election.

"I can only say good words about [Alexander] Lukashenko," he told a news conference at RIA Novosti. "We were good colleagues in the past."

Akayev sharply criticized Western views of Lukashenko, who Washington has dubbed "Europe's last dictator", calling such epithets "a great exaggeration." He also expressed his "sympathy toward the Belarus people."

With about 300 demonstrators camped out on the main square of the capital, Minsk, in protest against Lukashenko's landslide win in Sunday's vote, Akayev said he was impressed with the "peaceful response" of the Belarusian opposition to the election results and the restraint shown by the Belarusian authorities.

Meanwhile, the Belarus opposition continued Wednesday its protests with claims of vote rigging, but asked supporters to refrain from causing trouble.

The opposition's official site posted a message instructing the protesters to avoid any confrontation with the police and show policemen their personal belongings if asked to do so.

"Do not refuse [to show your belongings]," the message said. "If they [the police] attempt to search you personally, it is an official search and they need a warrant."

Tbilisi Condemns Belarus Elections as Undemocratic (Georgia)
Bush and Saakashvili; both speak of dark forces in Belarus
In a statement issued on March 23 the Georgian Foreign Ministry said that the Belarus presidential elections, which were held in “atmosphere of intimidation,” cannot be considered as democratic and free.

The statement also says that Tbilisi does not share assessment of the observer team from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), “which found the Presidential elections legitimate and corresponding to internationally recognized standards.”

“The fact, that Georgian observers, who were legally mandated by the OSCE, were not allowed to attend the event, and instead were unlawfully detained in the Minsk airport and expelled from the country, is also a proof that election process took place with serious violations,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.

The Georgian observers were not also included in the list of the CIS observation mission either.

“We hope that the peaceful protests by the opposition currently underway in Minsk will not be dispersed by the government with the use of force. We call on the Belarus authorities to release the arrested [opposition activists] and to launch a constructive dialogue with the opposition,” the statement reads.

Three Georgian citizens - an Orthodox priest Basil Kobakhidze, Malkhaz Songulashvili, head of the Georgian Baptist-Evangelist Church and Lado Gogiashvili, who were detained by Belarus security service in Minsk on March 20, were deported to Ukraine late on March 21.

Three citizens of Georgia were arrested in Minsk at the protest rally held by the Belarus opposition on March 20.

A group of Georgian parliamentarian who were also held by the Belarus special services for three days were deported to Georgia late on March 18. The Georgian MPs arrived in Minks to monitor March 19 presidential elections.

“We were held by the Belarus special services immediately after our arrive [on March 16]. We were then taken to unknown building where we were interrogated as alleged witnesses into the case related to terrorism. Several Georgian citizens are accused of terrorism attempt [by the Belarus authorities], including [Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security] Givi Targamadze,” MP Davit Kirkitadze told reporters upon arrival in Tbilisi.

“Each of the parliamentarian was guarded by four persons. Initially they told us that there was something wrong with our passports. During the three days we were held without any explanations. So this proves once again that the Belarus authorities are afraid of free observers and free opinion,” MP Bidzina Bregadze said.

Tbilisi condemned the arrest of Georgians and described it as an expression of “anti-Georgian stance” of the Belarus authorities.

President Saakashvili said on March 19 that “dark forces” try to oppress freedom in Belarus.

Breakaway Transdnestr region turns to Belarus for help

Igor Smirnov Rules in Transdniester
The leader of a self-proclaimed republic in Moldova has asked the president of Belarus to send humanitarian aid to the region to overcome the effects of an economic blockade, the presidential press service of the breakaway province said Thursday.

Igor Smirnov, the leader of the unrecognized republic of Transdnestr, sent a latter to the newly reelected president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, asking him to provide the assistance because measures imposed by Ukrainian authorities on March 3 had blockaded the foreign trade operations of Transdnestr enterprises, severed transport links with the self-proclaimed republic and foreign trade contracts.

"The republic's losses amounted to more than $46 million as of March 23, 2006," the letter said. "This is the money that the republic's budget, pension and other social funds, and also enterprises have failed to receive. This situation threatens the payment of wages, pensions and other benefits because the region is on the verge of humanitarian disaster."

Given this situation, Smirnov asked the Belarusian leader to "consider urgently providing humanitarian and economic aid to the republic."

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry has already dispatched a convoy carrying baby food, other produce and medicines for Transdnestr residents.

Spinning Belarus

Can hyping a peoples' 'revolution' in Minsk make it so?
Discerning which is real and which is fake in Belarus is a difficult job these days
WHAT'S happening in Belarus this week is a contest over the definition, even the very nature, of reality. In the aftermath of Sunday's presidential elections, the spokespeople and media of each side claim a certain reality, and in doing so, their purpose is to create it.

As Andrew Wilson demonstrates in his excellent book "Virtual Politics," the Belarus of President Alexander Lukashenko is an example of a new type of post-Soviet regime that retains power by what Wilson calls "faking democracy."

At least as important as the KGB (still called that in Belarus) and the other organs of state power that arrest, intimidate or otherwise get rid of opposition leaders are the "political technologists" — private agencies with names such as Nikkolo-M and Image-Kontakt. They devise Machiavellian election strategies that make North American or West European spin doctors look genteel.

Then a group of election monitors from the former Soviet Union, headed by a former Russian interior minister, declares the resulting elections "free, open and transparent." Black is white; or rather, in the post-Soviet version, dark gray is light gray. Anything but orange.

On the other side, opposition leaders, helped by European and American advisors, work to create an inspiring narrative of a nation rising up to free itself from the dictatorial yoke. In the Internet age, you can follow this narrative on websites such as that of the Charter 97 group, founded in conscious tribute to the Czechoslovak Charter 77 movement. On you have, minute by minute, a story of "dozens of thousands" of demonstrators defying snow, ice and the police on election night. A report of a "10,000-strong column" grew to 40,000 (an estimate far larger than that given by any foreign journalist) by 4:05 the next morning.

"Today we are born in a different country — a more courageous and free country," declared the lead post later that morning, calling for people to reassemble in October Square. "Call your relatives, friends, colleagues; come with your families. We are the majority, and we shall win!"

But they are not the majority. Most independent observers agree that these elections were very far from free and fair, and that Lukashenko is unlikely in reality to have received his claimed 82.6% of the vote on a 92.6% turnout. Yet most also believe that the elusive, contested reality of votes actually cast for him was probably well above 50%.

And that's not just the snap impression of visiting journalists. The Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexiyevich, for example, who calls Lukashenko a dictator whose time has passed, also observes: "A large percentage of people in this society agree with what is taking place in the country. It means they can earn a living somewhere; there is some quota for them in institutions of higher learning; there is still some education and healthcare free of charge."

Of course, we cannot know how the majority would have voted if opposition leaders had had equal access to an independent mass media, which they did not. So instead, they are trying to create a new kind of "people power" majority with bodies on the streets, in the spirit of President Andrew Jackson: "One man with courage makes a majority." And it takes courage to keep turning out on the streets of Minsk.

Still, at this writing, it looks as if the demonstrators are not succeeding, unlike their Ukrainian, Georgian and Serbian predecessors. The number of demonstrators seems to have diminished day by day, not grown in Ukrainian orange-style. A couple of hundred protesters are reportedly camping out at October Square, despite police harassment, and another mass rally has been called for Sunday. But the story in the international media is already "the revolution that wasn't." Perhaps it will still happen. Perhaps Lukashenko is crowing too soon that Belarus has resisted "the virus of color revolution." But his statement, too, is about creating reality.

By this stage, some readers may suspect that I've been infected with a nasty bout of postmodern relativism. Not at all. And there is no moral equivalence between Lukashenko and his opponents. But I insist that it is precisely those of us who care most about the spread of freedom through Europe who must be most careful not to confuse our wishes with reality.

When, for example, the website of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty ( reports the Belarus story under a continuing headline "Overcoming Fear," I must point out that a question mark is missing. In a contest of virtual or potential realities, there's still an underlying bedrock of facts, however difficult to find, and we must stick to those facts. There are so many, and only so many, people locked up. There are so many, and only so many, bodies on the streets.

THREE MAJOR LINES of conflict meet in the Belarusian fulcrum. There's the line between democracy and dictatorship, which post-Soviet political technologists like Nikkolo-M have make it their business to obscure; there's the clash of the advancing liberal empires of the West — the European Union and American-led NATO — with the retreating empire of Russia; and there's the ongoing argument about the virtues of more free-market or "neoliberal" economies as against more statist or planned models.

There are many reasons for the different paths followed by Belarus' Western and Eastern neighbors since the end of the Cold War — the Polish way and the Russian way — but one of the most fundamental is this: The Poles wanted to join the European Union, and the European Union made it clear the Poles could join only if they met certain standards regarding democracy, the rule of law, a market economy and so forth.

Now it's the Poles — and Slovaks, Czechs, Lithuanians and other recently self-liberated Europeans — who, as new members of the EU, are saying that more must be done to sustain the cause of freedom in places such as Belarus. Besides direct support to independent media, civil society and the democratic opposition, and pressuring the country's leaders, the most important thing the West — and Europe in particular — can do is continue to offer a longterm perspective.