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Sunday, April 24, 2005

 

Reactions to Rice's comments

From Radio Free Europe:

Arriving in Moscow today for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenka offered a sarcastic analysis of Rice's remarks on Belarus.

"It is good that she knows that there is such a country as Belarus and maybe even has an idea where it is situated. Maybe she even noticed she was flying over that country yesterday or some time before," Lukashenka said. "I don't think there are any terrorists or anything like that [in Belarus], everything seems to be fine."

Lukashenka, notorious for maintaining an iron grip on his increasingly impoverished and isolated country, was responding to Rice's comments yesterday, when she said, "We talked [with opposition politicians] about the desire for democratic development in Belarus and what could be done to support those who are trying to make a difference in that very difficult circumstance."

Other angry voices were also heard in Belarus. Senior lawmaker Mikalay Cherhinets said Rice's comments were a call to overthrow the country's legally elected officials. Belarusian state TV went even further, referring to Rice as a "black panther."

But others in Belarus welcomed Rice's remarks. Aleh Manayeu directs the Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies, a Minsk-based polling agency. He said her comments are great encouragement not only for the opposition but also for the silent majority of Belarusians who oppose the regime.

"It is a very strong message for this democratic part of the Belarusian electorate," Manayeu said. "It says, 'We remember you, we appreciate you, we are ready to support you, we will not forget you, you can count on our help.'"

Such help may be forthcoming. This week the U.S. Senate approved an extra $5 million to support democracy programs in Belarus. U.S. officials say $2 million of that will be spend on what they call the "consolidation" of the country's pro-democracy parties.

Another reason for Rice to act quickly, Karbalevich suggests, is that Minsk will be quick to use her statements yesterday as an opportunity to bolster its anti-Western propaganda.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting with Rice, Harri Poganyailo, the deputy director of the Belarus Helsinki Committee, announced plans to hold mass demonstrations in the country this autumn. The rallies will protest the disappearance of some 30 people during the past several years, including several independent journalists and opposition politicians.

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