23 Sep 2005 17:20:45 GMT

Belarus sliding into totalitarian rule says UN envoy

Source: Reuters

By Darius James Ross

VILNIUS, Sept 23 (Reuters) - A United Nations human rights investigator on Friday warned that Belarus was sliding into totalitarian rule and said he saw little hope that presidential elections due in 2006 would be free and fair.

Adrian Severin, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Belarus, called on the international community to present a united front to press for change to enable the people of Belarus to gain access to impartial information from the outside world.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, isolated by the West for a poor record on human rights and media freedom, is running for a third term in 2006.

"I see signs of attempts at creating a state official ideology," Severin told Reuters in an interview.

"This means a transition from authoritarian to a totalitarian regime," he said in Vilnius, where he was attending a conference on Belarus in Lithuania. "It is not just about controlling goods, but about controlling minds and souls."

Severin, due to present a report to the UN on Belarus in April next year, said the international community was divided on what to do about the ex-Soviet state of 10 million people. It has been called by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "the last true dictatorship in the centre of Europe."

The U.N. envoy said he held out little hope that the 2006 presidential vote would be democratic.

"There are no signs that elections will be freer and fairer," he said.

Lukashenko, a close ally of neighbour Russia, has been in office for 12 years. The veteran leader won overwhelming support in a referendum last year to enable him to prolong his stay in power. Western countries have denounced the poll as rigged.

Severin, whose requests to visit Belarus have been denied, said his new UN report would detail no improvements there.

Senior opposition politician Vincuk Viachorka, chairman of the Belarus Popular Front Party, told Reuters there was no chance that Lukashenko would be unseated in the 2006 poll.

"Lukashenko's power is a typical example of an individual directly supported from abroad, from Russia," said Viachorka, who was attending the same conference in Lithuania.

In Belarus, President Lukashenko on Friday vowed to enforce additional security measures after a bomb blast wounded 40 people outside a cafe in a town northeast of the capital Minsk.