Tensions continue to increase in the run-up to the presidential election in Belarus. Belarusian security officers beat and detained opposition candidate Alexander Kazulin as well as a number of his supporters. Several others were also beaten, including a television cameraman for Reuters and a Russian journalist. Police seized and destroyed cameras and film of the incident. Mr. Kazulin was later released by police and may face criminal charges.
President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said it was the U.S. hope that the election in Belarus would be fair. But "a prerequisite of a free and fair election," said Mr. Hadley, "is that you don't beat up opposition candidates or opposition supporters and throw them in jail."
Alexander Kazulin heads the Social Democratic party and is one of two candidates challenging President Aleksander Lukashenko in the March 19th presidential election. Mr. Lukashenko is seeking a third term after a flawed referendum in 2004 changed the constitution to allow him to run again.
The other opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, is backed by a coalition of parties and other organizations. He said the recent arrests showed that the election was turning into a "farce."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is concerned that the arrests of Mr. Kazulin and others marked "a serious deterioration in the campaign atmosphere." Other troubling actions by the Belarusian government include the harassment of the civil society group known as Partnership. Authorities detained the group's leader and deputy, raided its offices, and seized its documents and equipment.
It is incumbent on the government of Belarus to respect the rights of the Belarusian people and to cease harassing those promoting democratic elections. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer said, "What we are trying to do is to provide hope and support for those looking to end the self-isolation that the regime in Belarus has imposed on the country and to help bring democracy and the end of isolation to Belarus."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.