Embattled Belarusian opposition groups have received a helping hand from an informal coalition of nations, which has raised nearly 90 million euros to help them through a crackdown by the Belarusian president.
Opposition groups in Belarus will receive nearly 90 million euros ($124 million) in aid from 36 donor nations after Poland hosted a first-of-its-kind fundraising drive to support the movement against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The money raised at the "Solidarity with Belarus" conference will go towards Belarusian non-government organizations, the independent media, students and others who have suffered under Lukashenko's regime.
"Summing up, I can say there will be 87 million euros in aid, and most of these are new resources," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters after the gathering ended. Poland has led efforts within the European Union to get tough on Lukashenko, who has ruled ex-Soviet Belarus since 1994.
"Perhaps the examples of Mr Ben Ali, Mr Mubarak and others will make President Lukashenko reflect that the path he has chosen is not the best one for himself personally," Sikorski said, referring to the ousted Tunisian leader and Egypt's embattled president.
Solidarity with Belarusians
Lukashenko recently claimed victory in elections in December 2010 which were disputed by opposition groups and Western governments. Hundreds of opposition supporters and many of the country's opposition leaders were arrested after they took to the streets to protest the election, which they said was rigged.
"This is a very important gesture of solidarity and it says to us 'You are not left alone in the face of this horror,'" said Belarusian campaigner Eva Neklyayeva, whose father, Vladimir Neklyayev, was arrested after he stood against Lukashenko in the presidential election.
He was recently placed under house arrest after his release; however, other high-profile Lukashenko opponents remain behind bars.
Support for civil society
EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule said in Warsaw that those in attendance at the conference were also calling for the release of all those arrested in the post-election protests.
Fule added that the EU would quadruple its aid to Belarus to 15.6 million euros to support human rights.
"As a clear demonstration of our unequivocal support to civil society in these difficult times, we will increase our funding," he said. "With these measures, we are seeking to avoid isolating the Belarusian population. I believe we have an important responsibility in this regard."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also vowed his country would donate around 7 million euros, while pledges also came from Great Britain, Romania and Denmark.
The Fundraising drive was attended by some 200 representatives from all 27 EU member nations and EU candidates Croatia and Macedonia, plus Canada and the United States, and ex-Soviet states Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Author: Darren Mara (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer