May 24 2005, 11:22

Polish lawmaker assails Belarus' treatment of Polish minority

GRODNO, Belarus (AP) - Right-wing Polish lawmaker Roman Giertych on May 23 accused the authorities in Belarus of violating the rights of the ex-Soviet republic's Polish minority.

During a brief visit to this city about 280 kilometers (174 miles) west of the capital Minsk, the Polish legislator said Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko was seeking to control the country's main Polish association.

In March, the Union of Poles of Belarus elected a new leadership but Minsk authorities refused to accept its legitimacy.

"We express our support for the new leadership of the union and demand that the Belarusian authorities stop mistreating the Polish minority," said Giertych, chair of a parliamentary committee charged with maintaining ties with the Polish diaspora and head of the League of Polish Families.

His visit came amid worsening ties between Belarus and Poland, a country that threw off communism in 1989 and now belongs to the European Union.

Last week, Minsk expelled a Polish diplomat for activities "aimed at destabilizing Belarusian society." Poland retaliated by ordering the expulsion of a Belarusian diplomat.

Lukashenko has accused the West of attempting to use the Polish minority in Belarus, which constitutes 5 percent of the population, as a driving force to foment revolution.

After a series of popular revolts that toppled long-ruling leaders in the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, Lukashenko has vowed to prevent a similar uprising from taking place in Belarus.