U.S. Seeks Expanded Sanctions Against Belarusian Authorities
22 March 2006
"Lukashenko's days are numbered," says State Department's Kramer
By Vince Crawley
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- -The United States is working with European allies to seek increased financial penalties and travel restrictions for individuals in the Belarus government responsible for fraud and human-rights violations following widely criticized elections March 19.
Hundreds of demonstrators spent a fourth day braving frigid weather in Minsk, Belarus, to protest the re-election of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been in power in the former Soviet republic for 12 years.
Lukashenko’s landslide victory was criticized as fraudulent by the United States and independent observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). (See related article.)
“Lukashenko’s days are numbered,” David Kramer, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said March 21 in Washington. He said the United States will continue to lend moral and financial support to those who seek to reform the authoritarian regime in Minsk.
The United States has contributed $12 million in Freedom Support Act funds to promote democratic reforms in Belarus, he said.
“We’re working intensively with our European allies and partners to take a united approach” to reform the government of Belarus, Kramer said.
“Specifically, we will look to expand travel restrictions on additional individuals responsible for fraud and human-rights abuses.” Coordination with European allies is important because Belarusian authorities are far more likely to want to travel through Europe than to visit the United States, he said.
“We also will look at going after assets in a targeted way of key people in the regime in Minsk,” Kramer said. “It is important that we go after people and that they pay a price for the abuses that they have engaged in.”
He said he is “very confident” that the United States will maintain a “strong front” with the European Union in pressuring eventual reforms in Minsk.
Even as the United States and it allies put pressure on Belarusian authorities, “we will continue to support the people of Belarus,” Kramer said, adding that the United States is “Inspired by the courage of Belarusian democrats” despite a repressive government that has engaged in violence and fraud.
“The road will not be easy. The timing will not be predictable. But inevitably they will succeed,” Kramer said of the pro-democracy supporters in Belarus. “Lukashenko’s days are numbered. We will be engaged in Belarus for the long haul.”
During a visit to Minsk, Kramer said he was criticized for not meeting with Belarusian state-run media, an omission he defended because those organizations are not legitimate press outlets but rather “a KGB front … engaged in a relentless anti-American propaganda campaign in addition to being engaged in an offensive and disgusting campaign against individuals in our U.S. Embassy.”
Despite his harsh rhetoric against the regime in Minsk, Kramer said, “I have every hope and intention of returning to Belarus sometime this spring, to stand with the people there, to remind them that the United States is a strong advocate of democracy in Belarus. And to let them know that they have friends in the international community.”
The United States, he said, “will be engaged in Belarus for the long haul.”
Two days before the Belarusian election, the U.S. government released a report citing credible information that senior government leaders in Belarus abuse public resources, including for personal use. The report, requested by the U.S. Congress, said that Lukashenko “is likely among the most corrupt leaders in the world” with assets potentially worth billions of dollars. The report also cited secret arms sales to such state sponsors of terrorism as Iran and Sudan. (See related article.)
For additional information on U.S. policy, see the March 21 statement by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Julie Finley on the report of the Election Observation Mission on the Belarus election.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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