Poland to host conference to aid Belarusian opposition - Summary

Vienna- The Polish government is planning an international conference in February to find ways of aiding and funding Belarus' political opposition, a Foreign Ministry official confirmed Friday. The move comes in the wake of a crackdown on the opposition and their supporters after the disputed December presidential poll in which President Aleksander Lukashenko won re-election to a fourth term in office.

The conference has been billed as a "Solidarity with Belarus" donors' conference. It is scheduled for February 2, ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki told the the German Press Agency dpa.

Invitees include representatives from EU member countries, the United States, non-governmental organizations and members of the EU's Eastern Partnership programme: Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Belarusian government representatives will specifically not be invited, said Bosacki.

In an effort to prevent "further undemocratic behaviour" by Belarusian authorities, Poland also plans to "significantly increase its aid in support of democracy in Belarus" and start waiving visa fees for ordinary Belarusian citizens, the invitation says.

Polish schools will also open up spaces for Belarusian students who have been persecuted by that government's officials.

Finally, the Polish government plans to set up an information centre in Warsaw for Belarusian opposition groups.

"Opposition leaders and their supporters, journalists and ordinary people who continue to suffer are in urgent need of assistance," the invitation says.

"Though we have already demonstrated our solidarity, the current situation, which is in many ways unprecedented, requires further action."

It is expected to be "an opportunity to discuss the different forms of support that can be afforded Belarus by the international community, individual donor countries and civil society organisations."


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