March 05, 2006

Belarus election may be a turning point

BELARUS, Feb 26 -- On March 19, Aleksandr Milinkevich will not be elected the next president of Belarus. He campaigns anyway, but with something else in mind.

Through the winter he has traveled from city to city in clattering rented vans, meeting would-be voters in the bleak cold, gathering signatures and speaking about the social, economic and, above all, political neuroses that afflict this small nation at the eastern edge of a new Europe. [....]

"It is impossible to win at the elections, because there are no elections," Milinkevich told me the first time I met him in a dim, three-room apartment in Minsk in October. "Nobody counts the votes." [....]

"If our campaign is successful, then we will get people out into the street," he told me last December in Brest, a city of about 200,000 near the border with Poland. "This is the last chance, the last battle. If we shall not stand out in the streets, the long polar night will descend on Belarus." [....]

More . . . Bringing down Europe's last ex-Soviet dictator

BELARUS, Mar 1 -- In the West, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is often portrayed as a deeply unpopular dictator. The truth is a little more complex than that. According to a January poll by the Vilnius-based Gallup/Baltic Surveys, Lukashenka enjoys support of some 55 percent of Belarusians, thus being practically able to win the 19 March presidential election in a free and fair vote. So why do so many people in Belarus support Lukashenka, apparently of their own free will?

One of the possible answers lies in the country's economy, which has officially enjoyed robust growth in the past four years. For many Belarusians Lukashenka's economic policies appear to outweigh his heavy hand in subduing political dissent and impinging on human rights and personal freedoms in the country. [....]

The Russian energy-related subsidies have helped Lukashenka not only keep his economy afloat but also expand its existing production capacities. At the same time, however, they have done little to adapt Belarus's command economy to the conditions of genuine competition. When Belarus eventually moves to embrace some market-economy methods and give entrepreneurs more economic freedom, many Belarusians may find that their country's economic stability in the Lukashenka era was hardly a real asset.

More . . . Analysis: When bread is dearer than freedom

BELARUS, Mar 2 -- Security officers in Belarus today arrested and beat a candidate running against President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, raising tensions ahead of a disputed presidential election scheduled for March 19.

The challenger, Aleksandr V. Kazulin, was released more than eight hours later, but not before his arrest prompted protests, scuffles with police and dozens more detentions during a series of confrontations in the capital, Minsk.

Gunfire erupted near a police station where he was taken, as police officers fired warning shots in an attempt to stop a car carrying his supporters and a photographer, according to the candidate's spokeswoman and the election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"Today it was shown that the president is extremely afraid of his own people," Kazulin said in a telephone interview after his release this evening. "We call on the world community to issue a strict protest against the fact that in the center of Europe a dictatorship is metastasizing." [....]

More . . . Belarus candidate arrested and beaten

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