Lukashenko offered olive branch

Source ::: REUTERS

MINSK ? Belarus's opposition, long the object of President Alexander Lukashenko's disdain, offered yesterday to help him in his bid to repair ties with the West after an energy row with Russia.

Vintsuk Vechorka, leader of the opposition Popular Front, urged Lukashenko to use a traditional rally next month to promote his new campaign to reach an understanding with European states that have accused him of crushing fundamental rights.

Vechorka made his remarks after authorities reversed their stand and allowed a rights group to resume work in its Minsk office. The change of mind followed strong Western criticism.

The head of one of several disparate opposition groups, Vechorka said opposition groups would meet ahead of the March 25 rally to rework their strategy towards the president.

"This time, it will not be a protest action," Vechorka told Reuters, referring to the planned demonstration.

"Given Belarus's situation, we believe it is vital to show that our people want to keep their independence and sovereignty.

"We believe this will allow Lukashenko to show the world by deeds rather than words his intention to create a real democratic transformation."

The opposition, whose rallies are often dispersed by police, gathers each year on March 25 to mark the shortlived creation in 1918 of an independent state crushed by Bolshevik forces.

Last year's rally coincided with Lukashenko's disputed re-election to a third term and drew unprecedented crowds 10,000-strong denouncing the poll.