U.S. and E.U. Join to Show Support for Belarus Opposition


BERLIN - The United States and the European Union joined Wednesday in Warsaw in a show of support for the democratic opposition in Belarus.

The move is a reaction to a violent crackdown last December after tens of thousands of demonstrators challenged the presidential election results.

During a donors' conference organized by the Polish government, the United States pledged to increase its annual aid for human rights, educational groups and independent media to $14 million, up from $11 million.

"We want to show our solidarity with the people of Belarus in response to the brutal crackdown," said Lee Feinstein, the U.S. ambassador to Poland. The American delegation was led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel A Russell.

The European Union and the United States have already imposed sanctions on top Belarus officials, including President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, as well as the security forces who can be identified in leading the crackdown and arresting over 600 opposition activists.

On Wednesday, the E.U. enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fule, said the Union was now focused on how to strengthen the civil society movement in Belarus. Mr. Fule said the E.U. would quadruple its annual financial assistance to ?16 million, or $22 million. He said it would be directed at Belarusian non-governmental organizations, independent media and students repressed by the Belarusian authorities.

Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, announced last month that Warsaw would double its aid, to $14 million.

Poland, which borders Belarus, has taken the lead in rallying support from Europe and the United States for the democratic opposition in Belarus, many of whose members are still in prison while the independent media, radio and television have either been closed or severely restricted. Speaking at the donors' conference, Mr. Sikorski delivered a strong attack on Mr. Lukashenko.

"Mr. President, you are losing. No one is ready to believe in an 80 percent election result," Mr. Sikorski said, referring to last December's returns.

"Your methods have no place in modern Europe," Mr. Sikorski added. "Sooner or later you will a have to flee from your citizens and find shelter in a country which professes even lower standards than you do."

Independent organizations said the conference was also aimed at keeping international attention on Belarus.

"We would very much like for the world to remember the events in Belarus for as long as possible because now the attention is being directed to other events in the world, like the unrest in Egypt," said Dzmitry Novikau, president of the board of the independent European Radio for Belarus, which broadcasts news to Belarus from Warsaw.


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