EU To Grants Scholarships To Expelled Belarusian Students

The European Union is giving scholarships worth 5 million euros (6.25 million dollar) to Belarusian students expelled from university because of their anti-government protests during and after presidential elections in Belarus last March.

The European Commission said Monday that scholarships would be granted to give expelled students the chance to continue their studies in neighbouring countries such as Lithuania and Ukraine.

Bans on students were part of broad-based sanctions imposed by the government of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko following pro-democracy protests during and after the March 19 presidential elections.

EU funds will cover scholarships to 170 master and 35 bachelor programmes for new students in Vilnius' European Humanities University as well as living expenses for Belarusian students already enrolled there.

The 3-year-programme also includes scholarships for 100 students for higher education in Ukraine and other neighbouring countries.

The scholarships will cover tuition fees and living expenses, the commission said. Financial aid would be granted to students who have been accepted by a host university and who have demonstrated that they cannot study in Belarus.

The commission said it was giving 4.5 million euros with an additional 0.5 million euros coming from Nordic countries and territories in the Nordic Council of Ministers, a governmental co-operation forum.

"The situation with regards to human rights and democracy in Belarus remains very worrying and has recently further deteriorated," the commission warned, adding that more students could be denied access to education in the coming academic year.

Since the vote, the Belarusian authorities have tightened their grip on civil society and in particular on the media, youth, opposition forces and NGOs.

The EU earlier vowed tough sanctions against the hardline state which it has called "the last dictatorship in Europe." The presidential elections were widely seen as having been rigged