We should support democracy in Belarus, says Buzek

President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek criticizes the government in Minsk for the persecution of the Union of Poles in Belarus, as leftist MEPs block a motion in the European Parliament condemning Aleksander Lukashenko's authoritarian regime.

"To Poland, the Polish community in Belarus is of greatest importance. But if we want to solve the problem we should approach the matter from a wider perspective," Buzek said, Tuesday. "We need to talk about the threats to democracy and democratic liberties for all the independent organisations. The prisons are full again [in Belarus] and this does not only include short-term arrests of the representatives of the Polish minority but regular imprisonment of activists of the Belarusian opposition."

The European Union should take steps that would not hit regular citizens of Belarus, he said.

"We shouldn't limit cross-border traffic to Belarusians. We should be open towards the citizens. But we may introduce far-reaching limitations or a complete ban on travel for the top officials in Belarus."

Left blocks EP motion

Meanwhile, Left wing MEPs have blocked the European Parliament from passing a motion condemning Belarus for its increasing harassment of the Polish minority in the ex-Soviet nation.

"Frankly, I think [the blocking of the motion by Socialist and Communist groups] was based on political interests, not to irritate Lukashenko - or perhaps not to irritate Moscow, I don't know," said Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Tuesday.

Yesterday in Brussels, EU foreign ministers discussed deteriorating Polish-Belarus relations following arrests last week of 40 activists of the Union of Poles in Belarus as they were on their way to a rally in the west of the country. The government has also been trying to confiscate property owned by the union.

The authoritarian regime in Minsk, led by President Aleksander Lukashenko, has long believed that the union, representing 400,000 ethnic Poles in Belarus, is acting as a kind of fifth column intent on ushering in a 'velvet revolution' style social movement to topple the regime.

In response, Lukashenko ordered a rival pro-government Polish union be set up with leaders hand picked by the Belarusian president.

Leader of the independent Union of Belarus, Andrzelika Borys - who was one of those detained last week by what Polish media is describing as "Belarusian militia" - is in Brussels today to meet with EU leaders to discuss a response by the 27-nation bloc to what she claims is the systematic "repression of the Polish minority in Belarus".

EU foreign ministers yesterday did not recommend any sanctions, such as not issuing EU visas to top Belarusian top officials - restrictions which were only lifted last year. The stance is supported, at present, by the Polish government.

"We have not called for sanctions but may change our mind in the near future," said Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski.

After President Lech Kaczynski sent a letter of protest against the harassment of Polish minority representatives to Minsk, the Belarusian head of state responded in an official statement, "expressing hope for a balanced and sincere dialogue between Belarus and Poland for the further development of friendly and good neighborly relations," the Belarusian embassy in Warsaw said.

Belarus has been trying to improve relations with the EU of late, in its efforts to when itself of its dependency on Moscow for economic and political support. Brussels has also been trying to encourage Minsk to improve its human rights record and has tried to incorporate the country in its Eastern Partnership programme, which aims to give aid and technical support to ex-Soviet countries democratize and develop economically.


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