Poland, Germany call for free vote in Belarus

By YURAS KARMANAU MINSK, Belarus Germany and Poland said Tuesday that the EU could offer euro3 billion in aid to Belarus if its presidential vote is free and fair. Guido Westerwelle and Radek Sikorski, the foreign ministers of Germany and Poland, said after meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday that better relations between the European Union and Belarus hinge on the Dec. 19 election. Westerwelle said that the ex-Soviet nation's "bridge to Europe should rest on piers of democracy, human rights and free and fair elections." Lukashenko promised that the vote will be fair, and he badly needs EU support after a falling out with Russia, a main sponsor and ally. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, stifling dissent and free media and extending his rule through elections that international monitors have called fraudulent. He is widely expected to win the December vote against a fractured opposition. Andrei Sannikov, one of the 10 candidates challenging Lukashenko in the vote, said after meeting with Westerwelle and Sikorski that it's already obvious that the elections will be flawed. "We can already say that the vote won't be free and fair," Sannikov said. "We have no access to the media and our main task is to explain to the Europeans what's going on in Belarus." Lukashenko told Westerwelle and Sikorski that the "vote legitimacy is more important to us now that to anybody else." Belarus has been subject to the EU and the U.S. sanctions. Russia has a union agreement with Belarus and provided generous subsidies to help keep Belarus' Soviet-style economy afloat, but their ties have turned sour recently amid economic and political disputes. Russia in June partially cut natural gas supplies to Belarus for three days over its debt for previous deliveries, finally forcing its neighbor to pay. Moscow also has rejected Lukashenko's push for lower duties for Russian oil supplies to Belarus under a customs union between the neighbors. Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sharply criticized Lukashenko and accused the Belarusian leader of building his campaign for re-election in December's vote on "hysterical anti-Russian rhetoric."


Share |

Partners: Social Network