EU launches scholarships for Belarusian students kicked out of their universities

BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Union launched a scholarship program Monday for Belarusian students kicked out of their home universities for opposition activities, offering to support their studies in neighboring Lithuania and Ukraine.

The -4.5 million (US$5.65 million) program will pay scholarships for 205 students at the European Humanities University in Vilnius and for a further 100 students at universities in Ukraine, the European Commission said.

"I hope that those who study under this scheme will take home with them a greater understanding of life in a free society, and that they will maintain their hope and optimism that their country may one day enjoy these freedoms," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Hundreds of students were expelled from their home universities for opposing Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's authoritarian regime and taking part in anti-government rallies after he won a third term as president in March.

The EU program follows similar projects by Poland and the Czech Republic, which have launched courses for Belarusian students banned from studying in their home country.

The EU is also funding independent radio and TV broadcasts into Belarus to support the opposition movement.