By GORDON FAIRCLOUGH
Dozens of governments pledged more than $120 million in aid to opposition groups in Belarus, and Poland's foreign minister predicted that the former Soviet republic's authoritarian leader eventually would be driven from power by an angry public.
The promises of assistance, made at a conference in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on Wednesday, came on the heels of sanctions imposed this week on Belarussian officials by the European Union and the U.S., after a severe government crackdown on dissidents in Belarus.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, drawing parallels to events in Tunisia and Egypt, warned Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko that his days in power are numbered. "Sooner or later, you will have to flee your own country," he said.
Mr. Sikorski also said he had a message for the people of Belarus: "You are in Europe, and Europe is with you."
European nations that had been trying since 2008 to engage with Mr. Lukashenko in an effort to bring Belarus into the EU orbit, have altered their approach since security forces in Minsk beat and arrested hundreds of demonstrators protesting the outcome of presidential elections on Dec. 19.
Poland, which shares a long land border with Belarus, has been at the forefront of calls for stern measures against Mr. Lukashenko and for greater EU support for the Belarussian opposition. Poland's government organized the Wednesday donor meeting.
The U.S. said it would boost funding for Belarus civic groups by 30% to about $15 million this year. Poland said it would roughly double assistance to more than $14.8 million, while the EU said its aid would quadruple to $21 million.
On Monday, the EU slapped a travel ban on Mr. Lukashenko and about 150 other Belarussian officials and ordered their assets frozen. The U.S. also expanded its list of Belarussians subject to visa restrictions.
Washington and Brussels aim to be "tough on the officials responsible for the crackdown and violence, and to make clear to ordinary people that Europe welcomes them," said a senior U.S. official. "Lukashenko has managed to isolate himself in a new and potentially dangerous way for himself."
Belarus condemned the sanctions as "unjustified and wrongful" and promised retaliation. Mr. Lukashenko has accused Poland of trying to oust him in an effort to redraw its border with Belarus. Parts of what is now Belarus belonged to Poland before World War II.
Russia, Belarus's former political master, has said sanctions are "counterproductive."
Belarussian dissidents welcomed Wednesday's aid pledges, but some said that the U.S. and EU sanctions didn't go far enough. "In my opinion, only economic sanctions could help, like a boycott," said Dzmitry Barodka, a member of European Belarus, an opposition group.
Mr. Barodka-who participated in the antigovernment demonstrations in Minsk and said he saw one presidential candidate beaten unconscious by security forces-fled Belarus in the days after the state crackdown began. He traveled first to Russia, then Poland.
Warsaw has become an important gathering point for Belarussian dissidents. Poland for years has provided university places to Belarussian students expelled at home for political activities. It hosts TV and radio stations that broadcast independent news back into Belarus.
"Poland has done a lot to develop democracy in Belarus," said Ales Zarembiuk, a Belarussian opposition politician now living in Warsaw. As a city councilman in Belarus, he said, he was invited to participate in internship programs in Poland to see how the state functioned.
"Belarus is a Soviet-style country. We've got no one to learn from" about civil society and democratic government, Mr. Zarembiuk said. "We need our neighbors."
Write to Gordon Fairclough at firstname.lastname@example.org