Secretary General of the Council of Europe on presidential elections in Belarus

/ Strasbourg, 16.03.2006 - "The Belarus presidential elections will take place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. There is no genuine freedom of expression and no freedom of association. Political opponents of the President have been repeatedly and violently harassed. Whatever the outcome, these elections cannot be qualified as democratic in any meaning of the word" said Terry Davis on the eve of the elections in Belarus.

"The incumbent candidate reportedly enjoys genuine popular support. If this is the case, he should not hesitate to test his popularity in a free and fair general election. The Council of Europe is ready to provide assistance in any such future endeavour.

As for next Sunday, there seems to be little suspense, but there is much concern. The Council of Europe will very closely follow the events on voting day and afterwards. Belarus is the only European country which is not a member of the Council of Europe, and I can only hope that whoever wins the election will use the mandate to bring Belarus closer to the European family of free and democratic nations. This is perhaps excessively optimistic, but optimism - just as people's aspiration to freedom - is far too resilient to be lastingly suppressed" concluded the Secretary General.