Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store joined the European Union and US on Monday in condemning police violence and mass arrests of opposition leaders in Belarus following the country's presidential election on Sunday. The Norwegian government claimed the election was neither free nor democratic.
MINSK, BELARUS. DECEMBER 20, 2010. A protester seen outside the government building during an opposition rally in Minsk. (Photo ITAR-TASS / Alexei Filippov) Photo via Newscom
"The brutal manner in which unrest after the election has been handled is completely unacceptable," Store said in a prepared statement. "I condemn the use of violence against demonstrators and the arrests of opposition leaders, journalists and representatives of the civilian society."
International election observers had a long list of complaints about the election on Sunday, which predictably gave incumbent president Alexander Lukasjenko a victory. Lukasjenko is often referred to as "the last dictator in Europe."
Police cracked down during the night on demonstrators who were protesting the election results, and an estimated 1,000 of Lukasjenko's opponents were arrested. The European Union, Norway and a long list of human rights organizations including the Norwegian Helsinki Committee were demanding their immediate release.
Among those arrested were several of the opposition's presidential candidates. The "ruthless attack on peaceful demonstrators" showed "the true face" of the regime in Belarus, claimed Bjorn Engesland, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Engesland wants Norway to place Belarus at the top of its agenda, investigate the legal responsibility for the use of force on December 19, and initiate a common Nordic program to support the democratic forces in Belarus. Engesland himself was denied a visa to Belarus but the committee had three representatives present during the elections. Several of their close colleagues are now either in prison or in the hospital after the attack in Minsk.
Store said Belarus "must live up to its international obligations" tied to human rights and democracy. "We all want to see Belarus integrated into Europe," Store said. "But then the country's authorities must respect fundamental norms for human rights and democracy."
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund