31.08.2005 - 09:49 CET

EU to send top diplomat to Belarus

By Renata Goldirova

EUOBSERVER / BUDAPEST - The European Commission is to send a top diplomat to Belarus, as concerns grow about human rights abuses in the post-Soviet republic.

Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said a charge d'affaires to Minsk should monitor the situation on the ground and also send a clear message in support of democracy, freedom and human rights.

The issue was raised at a meeting of the Visegrad Group in Budapest on Tuesday (30 August) when Polish prime minister Marek Belka expressed concern about the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko trying to gain control over political and non-political organisations.

Warsaw complained that Minsk had ousted the pro-Warsaw leadership of an ethnically Polish organisation and installed its own leaders.

Poland, currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the anti-communist Solidarity movement, has a large ethnic minority in Belarus and, together with the US, repeatedly dubs the communist regime in Belarus as Europe's last dictatorship.

Minsk, on the other hand, accuses Poland of trying to foment a Ukraine-style revolution.

More assistance to Belarus opposition

Mr Barroso said that Brussels is ready to encourage political reforms in Belarus and to provide NGOs with financial support.

Last week, the commission announced it would also help provide radio and internet broadcasting into Belarus in an attempt to increase the country's awareness about democracy and human rights.

The EU has increased its protests against Mr Lukashenko ahead of the presidential elections next year.

Many NGOs suggest that the Belarussian president is going to step up repression of independent media and freedom of expression in order to secure his job.

Belarus is listed as a potential participant in the EU's neighbourhood policy, which aims at fostering closer ties with the bloc's direct neighbours. But, so far, Minsk has failed to qualify for the scheme.