Sweden and Poland target democratic Belarus

Sweden and Poland plan to work together to support democratic efforts in Belarus to put an end to "the last dictatorship in Europe", the countries' two leaders have said.

"We want to support the democratic forces inside Belarus," Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson told reporters following talks with his Polish counterpart Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz in Stockholm on Monday.'

"Democracy and freedom are what extend the scope of peace and security," Marcinkiewicz said.

The two leaders said they had yet to work out a concrete plan on how to proceed, but "we have agreed to give our staffs the task to try to develop more cooperation between Sweden and Poland to support democracy inside Belarus," Persson said.

"We have experience from the breakthrough in Ukraine where we worked together, Sweden and Poland, with various kinds of seminars where we invited representatives from Ukraine to Warsaw," Persson said.

"We can do the same kind of thing with Belarus," he said.

"Do not forget that this country - Minsk is just one hour's flight away from Sweden - is the last dictatorship in Europe. It will of course be replaced by a democracy," Persson said.

Belarus is to hold presidential elections on March 19, in which authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko is standing for a third term.

Lukashenko has vowed defiance in the face of Western pressure to reform his Soviet-style rule - pressure that has risen with the enlargement of the European Union and NATO to Belarus's borders.

While the opposition has been buoyed by Western support and by popular uprisings in other ex-Soviet nations, it says the election result has been predetermined.

It points to the authorities' control of both the media and the election apparatus, as well as a poll predicting Lukashenko would get 76 percent of the vote that was published by state media the day after candidates were registered.