Belarus. On repeated occasions at the beginning of the
year, opposition activists were arrested, and a regime
critic was sentenced in May to several years in prison.
Independent journalists and writers were pressured, as were
teachers who were members of opposition parties.
In the local elections in April, only 360 opposition
candidates were registered, even though the local parishes
have more than 21,000 eligible seats. There were reports of
harassment of independent candidates and of cheating in both
voting and voting.
After bloody riots and fighting in Kyrgyzstan, the
deposed President Kurmanbek Bakijev fled to Belarus, where
he was given the protection of the dictator Lukashenka,
which caused dissatisfaction in Moscow.
In the autumn, the famous opposition journalist Aleh
Byabenin was found hanging in his summer cottage. Police
claimed he committed suicide, but friends and colleagues
demanded an independent investigation. The regime agreed
that the OSCE sent Swedish and Norwegian forensic experts to
make a technical evaluation of the evidence. They supported
the conclusion of suicide, which upset Byabenin's
colleagues. These stated that, as editor of the independent
website Chartyja 97, he had been subjected to death threats.
COUNTRYAAH, Belarus's relationship with the Russian Federation
deteriorated during the year. In May, Russian Gazprom
declared Belarus owed over $ 200 million for gas delivered.
In June, Gazprom cut gas exports sharply, and then Belarus
flowed to the rest of Europe. The quarrel came at the same
time as President Lukashenka decided not to enter the
planned customs union with the Russian Federation and
Kazakhstan, which teased Moscow. But the dispute over gas
was settled, debts were said to be out of the world and
Russian exports resumed.
When fire bombs were thrown at the Russian embassy in
Minsk, the Russian Federation demanded an investigation,
with terms that angered Lukashenka so that he called the
leaders of Moscow idiots. The outcome also came after
Russian TV showed documentary films, in which Lukashenka was
portrayed as killer, mafia godfather and dictator. A Russian
anarchist group then took on the blame for the fire bombs
against the Russian embassy.
It was speculated that the Kremlin took its hand from
Lukashenka and wanted to support someone else in the
December presidential election. The drama before the
election was turned up when a mysterious person on an
Internet video claimed that Russian Federation Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin ordered Lukashenka to be murdered,
perhaps through terrorist attacks against an election
meeting. When the Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov visited Minsk in the fall, he did not meet
All the more heartbreaking was the October meeting
between Lukashenka and visiting President Dalia Grybauskaite
from neighboring Lithuania. Grybauskaite came with the
blessing of Brussels in an attempt to forge stronger ties
between the EU and Belarus, at a time when Lukashenka was on
edge with Moscow. Grybauskaite's EU greeting was that the
December presidential election must be fair and free. She
called for all opposition candidates to register and for
election observers to be allowed. Lukashenka agreed to both
demands, which the opposition candidates welcomed when
Grybauskaite met them. She in turn urged them to agree on a
joint candidate. But instead, nine challengers signed up to
Lukashenka. The split of the opposition was a decisive
reason why the dictator was the favorite to be elected for
the fourth time.
After the Grybauskaite, Poland's and Germany's foreign
ministers came to Minsk and offered Lukashenka three billion
euros if he made a choice that the EU could accept as
democratic. In the midst of his worst quarrel with Moscow,
he seemed to welcome the outstretched hand of the EU.
Assessors believed that Lukashenka played on the terms of
the EU, as he was confident of winning the election anyway.
But the election was a tough blow to the democratic
opposition. On election night, thousands of people protested
in Minsk, since polling polls talked about Lukasjenka's
grand victory. After a few hooligans' attacks on a
government building, the riot police went on a violent
attack on the peaceful protesters and many fought bloody,
including one of the opposition's presidential candidates,
Vladimir Nekliyev. More than 600 people were arrested,
including several opposition candidates who were later
charged with organizing mass riots, punishable by up to 15
years in prison. According to the opposition, the violence
was provoked by regime supporters.
According to the Election Commission, Lukashenka won the
presidential election with 79.7 percent of the vote, with
the opposition's Andrej Sannikov in second place with only
2.6 percent. The OSCE election observers were not allowed to
attend the voting count, the opposition spoke of widespread
electoral fraud, Sweden's Foreign Minister labeled the
election a charade, and within the EU, sanctions were being
Lukashenka reshaped the government after the election and
then appointed Michail Mjasnikovich as new prime minister
after Syarhey Sidorski.