Friday March 18, 2005

Latvian EU lawmakers demand medical aid for jailed Belarus opposition chief


Latvian members of the European Parliament said they sent a letter of protest to Belarus' EU ambassador to demand that jailed Belarus opposition leader Mikhail Marinich be given medical aid following a stroke and be allowed to see his family.

"We are concerned over the news that Mikhail Marinich, the leader of the democratic opposition in Belarus, suffered a stroke," Latvian Inese Vaidere, who heads a group of Latvian MEPs, said in a statement to ambassador Vladimir Senko.

"In particular we were shocked about the fact that he is not allowed to meet with his family, who learned about the stroke only after a couple of days."

The Latvian lawmakers also called for "a fair and transparent appeals procedure" for Marinich, a former Belarus ambassador to Riga, and for his release from prison.

Late last year a court in Minsk found Marinich, 64, guilty of stealing computers and telecommunications equipment provided by the US embassy to his non-governmental organisation Business Initiative and sentenced him to five years in a maximum security prison.

Washington Washington insisted it had no claim against Marinich and called for his release, denouncing the charges as politically motivated.

Marinich has said the case against him was a fabrication to keep him away from the public life in Belarus.

In January, the European Union added its voice to those condemning the jailing of Marinich.

An EU statement said then that Marinich, a former presidential candidate, had undergone a "politically motivated trial, which ended with a disproportionate sentence on a questionable charge".

Belarus is an impoverished ex-Soviet republic sandwiched between Russia Russia, Ukraine Ukraine, Poland Poland and the Baltics and ruled with an iron fist by Alexander Lukashenko, who was re-elected in disputed polls in October.