Belarus opposition seeks advice in Georgia

ISN SECURITY WATCH (11/05/05) - Belarus opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko visited Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday, where he sought revolutionary advice from Georgian officials on the sidelines of US President George Bush's address to the crowds at Tbilisi's Freedom Square.

The head of Belarus' opposition United Civil Party arrived in Tbilisi on a personal invitation from Georgian Parliamentary Vice-President Mikhail Machavariani, who said they had discussed the political situation in Belarus and the county's upcoming presidential elections scheduled for June 2006.

"Yesterday it was Georgia, today it is Ukraine, and tomorrow it will be Belarus," Lebedko told ISN Security Watch on Tuesday, referring to the peaceful revolutions that overthrew long-time Georgian and Ukrainian leaders - and expressing the opposition's hopes of a similar fate for Belarus President Aleksandar Lukashenka.

"We have come to create a democratic coalition," Lebedko said, adding that he had met with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli and Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze to seek advice. He also said he would be meeting with Parliamentary President Nino Burdzhanadze and President Mikhail Saakashvili, saying: "I don't doubt that I will receive support from them."

Lebedko has also received support from Washington. During his stopover in Latvia on 5 May, Bush described Belarus as the "last remaining dictatorship in Europe", and gave assurances that the US would work with the country to ensure that future elections would be free and fair.

Lukashenka has ruled Belarus for the past 11 years and is widely viewed in the West as a dictator and an opponent of democracy. He is also often criticized for his support of the former authorities in Iraq and the current regime in Cuba.

A controversial referendum introduced by Lukashenka in 2004 abolished presidential term limits, allowing the president to seek a third term in next year's election.

Looking down at the cheering crowd gathered to hear Bush's speech in Tbilisi's Freedom Square, Lebedko said: "Next year, I want this in June - a rally of 120,000 people."

(By John Mackedon in Tbilisi)