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Press release

Steady western support needed to boost democracy in Belarus

Delegations - 31-01-2006 - 17:01
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"Belarus needs ongoing support from the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the EU", was the message to the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday from Alexander Milinkevich, the candidate of the united opposition for the Belarus presidential elections in March. MEPs welcomed the fact that the democratic opposition forces of Belarus have been able to agree on a single candidate and expressed full backing for the opposition and its goals.

Mr Milinkevich told MEPs that the opposition in Belarus faces many difficulties. President Lukashenka, he said, does not even intend to organise fair elections. The opposition has no access to radio and TV channels or the printed press and has to content itself with distributing leaflets and occasional publications. Still, he vowed to continue with his campaign and he remained hopeful, saying "we are convinced of our victory".
He went on to explain that the key to democracy in Belarus is truthful information. "Our society needs truth" he said, noting that EuroNews broadcasts are viewed by 25% of the population. He welcomed the European Commission's planned funding for radio and television broadcasts targeted at Belarus but said more such help was needed. He called for the creation of links with civil society and more EU support for Belarus NGOs, including non-registered organisations, noting that about 50% of NGOs in the country are now illegal.
Mr Milinkevich told MEPs that President Lukashenka's message to the people is that Europe has closed its doors to Belarus. The EU should therefore review its visa system with Belarus so that especially young people could visit EU countries and study there, while those belonging to the regime would still face restrictions for violating human rights. He also believed an assessment of the pre-election situation in Belarus was needed and called for a fact-finding mission. While calling for help, Mr Milinkevich accepted the final responsibility for democratic change saying "It is up to us to do the job - to free people from fear and bring them freedom".
The head of the EP delegation for relations with Belarus, Bogdan Klich (EPP-ED, PL), noted that during its current term of office the EP had adopted more resolutions on Belarus than on any other country, which showed the importance it attached to the issue.
During the question and answer session Elisabeth Schroedter (Greens/EFA, DE) asked about President Lukashenka's idea for a Russia-Belarus Union.  Mr Milinkevich replied "We want strong relations with Russia but not a union of nations. We want to be a reliable and effective bridge between the EU and Russia."  
To a question by Janusz Onyszkiewicz (ALDE, PL), Mr Milinkevich repeated his view that granting free visas to Belarus citizens would be a good step, since "they would see free societies at first hand. That would undermine Belarus propaganda that Belarussians are not welcome in Europe."
Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL, NL) queried the presidential candidate on his plans for interior policy. According to Mr Milinkevich, the opposition parties regard the separation of the judiciary from the executive as a priority.
Charles Tannock (EPP-ED, UK) suggested Mr Milinkevich could give interviews to the Ukrainian radio and TV stations, which can be received on Belarus territory. Mr Milinkevich agreed, saying he had already given interviews to the Russian, Polish and Lithuanian media and that it would indeed help to be covered by the media of another neighbouring country.
In a statement issued earlier today after a meeting with Mr Milinkevich, Parliament's President Borrell said "We in the European Parliament are strongly committed to supporting all efforts to promote democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The EP has condemned the Belarus regime's many violations in these fields. This was clearly stated in the latest EP resolution, adopted on 29 September 2005." 
Committee on Foreign Affairs
Chair : Elmar Brok (EPP-ED, DE)
REF.: 20060130IPR04815