Merkel aide slams death penalty in Belarus

Minsk - The chief aide to German Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday condemned Belarus' use of the death penalty, the last country in Europe still to carry out capital punishment for criminal offences.

Ronald Pofalla, the cabinet minister without portfolio who runs Merkel's Berlin office, was visiting Minsk to urge free elections and democracy in the former Soviet republic.

A presidential election is set for December 19, in the country which is regularly described as Europe's 'last dictatorship.'

'The normal basics for free elections are still not being observed,' Pofalla told German reporters after meeting Belarus dissidents. A longtime supporter of the Belarus opposition, Pofalla, promised to speak out if Minsk committed electoral fraud.

'I am not just calling for the abolition of the death penalty in nations that maybe have problems holding free elections, but also where it is imposed in friendly nations,' Pofalla said in response to a journalist's question.

He said he had said so on visits to the United States. 'The death penalty is absolutely unacceptable.'

The Belarus government has frostily rejected what it sees as outside interference in its internal affairs.

On Tuesday, Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle met with President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk to appeal for fair polls.

Vladimir Makey, who heads the department of the Belarus president, said the European Union's former policy of isolating and imposing sanctions on Belarus had not completely ceased.

The EU has suggested if might provide 3 billion euros (4 billion dollars) in aid if Belarus holds fair elections.

'We don't need the billions and the investment if they are conditional on political preconditions,' said Makey.

Lukashenko is hoping to be re-elected on December 19. He has been in power since 1994. At the last election, in 2006, he was declared winner with 83 per cent of the vote. Author: Kristina Dunz


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