Europe cautious on Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko re-elected, challengers to him jailed, with at least two of them, Vladimir Nekliayev and Andrei Sannikov, apparently beaten up. Nekliayev was taken into detention from his hospital bed, where he found himself following the break-up of anti-Lukashenko protests on Sunday night.

This is the situation in Belarus two days after the country's presidential elections Sunday in which Mr Lukashenko claims to have polled 80 percent.

Conspicuously, any clear reaction in Europe is very slow in coming.

Euro-Parliament President Jerzy Buzek denounces the heavy-handed tactics of Minsk riot squads but says any change to his Parliament's relations with Belarus is yet to be discussed.

The chief rights and democracy supervisor of Europe's OSCE security body Gert Arens would not go further than declining to praise the Belarusian elections.

The OSCE electoral monitor in Belarus Tony Lloyd cautiously speaks about a negative overall impression from the crackdown in Minsk.

The Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski believes Lukashenko polled only 40 percent and cautiously regrets the fact that many of Lukashenko's critics are now behind bars.

The European Union's chief foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton says Belarus has to go a very long way before it can call itself a modern democracy, but progress along this way is undisputable.

The former Belarusian President Stanislaw Szuszkiewicz speaks about naivety and even indifference of Europe's side:

"What other conclusion can you make as the Euro-Parliament President is humbly asking Lukashenko to punish the culprits in Sunday night's beatings? Is it not clear that the culprit is Lukashenko himself? The crackdown was an instance of state terrorism against the Belarusian people. Failure to recognize this smacks of utter indifference towards everything that concerns Belarus."

The Russian Lower House's deputy foreign affairs head Andrei Klimov espouses a different view:

"Lukashenko's batons and shields made it difficult for European leaders to be seen to be embracing his autocratic state and opening a new chapter in relations with it. At the same time, Europe continues to entertain hopes of engaging Lukashenko in partnerships and cannot afford wasting another five years spurning Belarus. Hence the current pause, and also a perception that it may last quite some time."

Russia, meantime, is demanding freedom for ten Russian nationals who got 10 to 15 days behind bars for happening to be close to the site of Sunday night's protests. One, named Anastasia Rybachenko, has successfully resorted to a hunger strike to force her jailers to allow Russian consular visits to her and other Russian detainees. All ten describe their prison conditions as tolerable.


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