During a visit to Lithuania for a NATO ministerial meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with a group of Belarusian civil society representatives. The people of Georgia and Ukraine have brought about democratic changes in their countries. But opposition figures in Belarus say they face a tough struggle because Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues brutally to repress dissent and restrict basic freedoms, such as the right to assemble and associate peacefully.
"The government in Belarus is prepared to use force at any moment," said Lyudmila Petina, chairman of the Christian Women's Democracy Movement. Secretary of State Rice discussed with Belarusian dissidents the disappearance of regime opponents.
The Belarusian government has made no credible efforts to solve the presumed killing of journalist Dmitry Zavadskiy, opposition figures Yuryiy Zakharenko and Viktor Gonchar, and businessman Anatoly Krasovsky. The Belarusian government, Ms. Rice said, "should know that their behavior is being watched. . . . .This is not a dark corner in which things can go unobserved, uncommented on, as if Belarus was somehow not a part of the European continent."
The 2006 presidential election in Belarus offers an opportunity for other nations to focus on the need for a free and fair vote, said Secretary of State Rice:
"What the United States will always support is the evolution of democratic processes around the world and the desire of people to tap into the aspirations of their populations for freedom. And we will support the idea that elections, when they are held, should be real elections. They should not be sham elections and the international community ought to be prepared and ready to help Belarus to carry out a free and fair election in 2006."
The U.S. will continue to support the Belarusian people in their aspirations for democracy and human rights. As Secretary of State Rice said, "The people of Belarus will have to make determinations about how they move forward. But the key is that people ought to be able to protest, speak their minds, there ought to be free media."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.