- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

Belarus alert

The sons of an internationally recognized political prisoner in Belarus called on the Bush administration to underscore its support for pro-democracy activists in the authoritarian former Soviet republic.

“There are people in Belarus fighting for their freedom. It is very important that the U.S. government, President Bush and Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice reiterate their support. We know we are not alone in this struggle,” Igor Marynich said during a recent visit to Washington.

Mr. Marynich and his brother, Pavel, discussed the condition of their father, Mikhail Marynich, when they spoke to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last week.

The father was sentenced in December to 8 years in prison on charges of stealing computers from the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Minsk. Embassy officials testified that the computers were a donation for Mikhail Marynich’s pro-democracy nongovernmental organization.

The father suffered a stroke in March and was transferred to a prison hospital. His sentence recently was reduced to five years.

His case has attracted international attention. The European Parliament last month demanded his release, recognized him as a political prisoner and declared the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a dictatorship. Police in Minsk also last month violently broke up a pro-democracy demonstration, human rights groups said.

Igor Marynich said his father, a former Belarusian diplomat who challenged Mr. Lukashenko for re-election, “participated in the joint work of the opposition” and was not a member of a particular political party at the time of his arrest.

“Lukashenko wanted to show with this trial that a person could be honest but if they are a threat to the regime, anything can be done to them,” Pavel Marynich said. “The regime is scared to hear the truth about itself.”

The brothers said dissatisfaction with the government runs deep in Belarus.

“All strata of society have shown themselves to be unhappy with the current condition,” Igor Marynich said. “If the political opposition could unite and rally behind a leader, it would give the current leader a ticket to jail.”

He called on Belarusians to overcome their fear and fight for democracy.

“People must overcome the fear of repression in their own souls,” he said.

In Belarus, a public-opinion poll has found that 46.7 percent of voters support Mr. Lukashenko and 70 percent could think of no political leader who could defeat him.

Last week, two opposition parties — the Social Democratic Assembly and the Social Democratic Party-Popular Assembly — formed the Belarusian Social Democratic Party.

New ambassadors

President Bush has selected a Cuban immigrant and a career Foreign Service officer in his latest round of ambassadorial nominations.

Mr. Bush named Eduardo Aguirre Jr. to serve as ambassador to Spain. Mr. Aguirre arrived in the United States in the 1960s at age 15 and rose to the position of president of international private banking for the Bank of America.

As governor, Mr. Bush appointed him to the board of regents of the University of Houston System. After he was elected president, Mr. Bush named Mr. Aguirre as vice chairman and chief operating officer of the Export-Import Bank in 2001 and as the first director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2003.

Mr. Aguirre has achieved international recognition for his charitable work and for his promotion of economic growth. President Elias Antonio Saca of El Salvador presented him with the Order of Jose Matias Delgado this year, and President Hipolito Mejia of the Dominican Republic named him to the Order of Christopher Columbus in 2002.

Mr. Bush also nominated Emil Skodon to serve as ambassador to Brunei Darussalam. Mr. Skodon is currently deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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