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10/26/04 - BELARUS DEMOCRACY ACT - 2004-10-27

President George W. Bush has signed the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004. Passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress, the new law authorizes assistance for Belarusian political parties, non-governmental organizations, and independent media working for democracy and human rights. The law expresses the sense of the Congress that the Belarusian authorities should not receive various types of non-humanitarian financial aid from the U.S. It also calls for the President to report to Congress on arms sales by Belarus to state sponsors of terrorism and on the personal wealth and assets of senior Belarus officials.

The U.S. has long been concerned about the assault on supporters and institutions of democracy and human rights by the government of Belarus. "At a time when freedom is advancing around the world," said Mr. Bush, "[President] Aleksandr Lukashenko and his government are turning Belarus into a regime of repression in the heart of Europe, its government isolated from its neighbors and its people isolated from each other."

This month, said President Bush, "Mr. Lukashenko claimed victory for referendum results that swept away constitutional limits on his term in office. The referendum and concurrent parliamentary elections were conducted in a climate of abuse and fear." Mr. Bush said that international observers "have determined that this victory was achieved by fraudulent means."

Clearly, the will of the Belarusian people has been disregarded once again. Belarusians are faced with a parliament beholden to Lukashenko and with the possibility that Lukashenko will become president for life.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. is concerned about the Belarusian government's increasingly repressive steps against independent media and pro-democracy groups. He says that Belarusian security forces used excessive force against peaceful protesters following the flawed parliamentary elections and referendum:

"We would note, in particular, reports that Belarusian police beat and detained two prominent leaders of the Democratic opposition, Anatoly Lebedko and Nikolai Statkevich, on October 19th. And we've also seen, I think, several reports of beatings of journalists."

The U.S., said President Bush, "will work with our allies and partners to assist those seeking to return Belarus to its rightful place among the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies. There is no place in a Europe whole and free for a regime of this kind."