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Dismal Conditions In Belarus

The United States and European countries remain concerned about the upcoming presidential election in Belarus on March 19th and the "undemocratic conditions" there.

In a joint statement, U.S. and European Union officials said it is vital that the March 19th elections be conducted "so as to guarantee that the general will of the electorate prevails."

For that to happen, the political opposition must be free to get its message out. That will not be easy, since most of the independent media in Belarus has disappeared. In the last year, at least fifteen independent newspapers were denied printing or distribution services by state-owned monopolies.

Solidarnost is a case in point. The newspaper recently lost its contract with Belsayuzdruk, a state-owned company that has a monopoly on distribution through kiosks. The Belarusian state postal service also said it would cease distributing the paper. With the presidential election rapidly approaching, non-governmental organizations that support freedom of speech and assembly in Belarus are vital to a free and fair campaign. But the Belarus supreme economic court recently reinstated harsh and unwarranted financial penalties against the Belarus Helsinki Committee for alleged tax evasion.

If such repressive tactics continue, it will be impossible for the election in March to be free and fair, says U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack:

"We encourage the current government to open up the political process to those voices that have been stifled. We believe that it is important in any country that aspires to truly be a democracy that the government not only hold elections but govern democratically, and that the electoral process unfold in a way so that the people voting. . . .will have a full opportunity to express their will across the spectrum of political views."

The U.S. and European countries are prepared to reach out to Belarus and its people. The U.S. urges the Belarusian government to act in the best interests of the Belarusian people.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.