Bush, Hadley Meet with Belarusian Widows to Show U.S. Concern Over Election

The Bush administration underscored its concern over the coming March 19 elections in Belarus by inviting the Belarusian widows of a pro-democracy businessman and an independent journalist to meet with President Bush and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley at the White House February 27.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the meeting, held 20 days before Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stands for re-election, "highlights our concern about the conduct of the government in Belarus leading up to the election."

McClellan said the conduct includes "harassment of civil society and the political opposition and failure to investigate seriously the cases of the disappeared.

"The United States stands with people of Belarus in their effort to chart their own future," he said.

The press secretary said several international investigations concluded that the two men "were murdered by authorities in Belarus because of their political activities," and that the United States government "shares that view."

During the meeting, Bush expressed his condolences to their widows -- Irina Krasovskaya and Svyatlana Zavadskaya -- and "underscored his personal support for their efforts to seek justice for the disappeared and for all those who seek to return freedom to Belarus."

The two women are now human rights activists. They co-founded the organization "We Remember," which seeks justice for the disappeared, according to press reports.

The United States has many concerns over Lukashenko's government, McClellan said. "What we want to do is everything we can to help advance freedom and democracy in Belarus. And that's why we stand with these widows and we stand with the people of Belarus."