Belarus, chided by Russia, offers Ossetia sympathy

MINSK, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The president of Belarus, taken to task by Russia for offering limited support in its conflict with Georgia, expressed condolences on Wednesday to victims and offered to send assistance.

On Tuesday, Moscow's ambassador to Belarus said Russia could not understand the "modest silence" of its western neighbour in the conflict in Georgia's separatist region of South Ossetia.

Belarus, whose President Alexander Lukashenko is accused by the West of crushing fundamental rights, has portrayed itself as a close Russian ally since the 1990s.

On Wednesday, a statement by the president's press service said: "The Belarussian people, like all Russians, is in mourning over the victims of the tragedy and shares the concerns of those who lost relatives, their homes and their livelihoods.

"May they have strength and courage in overcoming the consequences of this humanitarian catastrophe."

The two neighbours are committed to forming a merged post-Soviet "union state", though provisions for this arrangement are vague and the idea has made little progress.

Relations have especially cooled since 2007 when the two sides quarrelled over energy prices.

Belarus has since tried to improve ties with the West, particularly the European Union, and Lukashenko on Tuesday asked the Foreign Ministry to produce measures to fulfil that goal.

Earlier this week, the ministry had limited its statements to calling on both Russia and Georgia to lay down arms and start negotiating for peace.

Russia has consistently defended Belarus against accusations that it violates freedom of speech and assembly, and Prime MInister Vladimir Putin was one of a handful of leaders to congratulate Lukashenko on his 2006 re-election, denounced as rigged in the West. (Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Ron Popeski; editing by Robert Hart)



Partners: Social Network