- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

McCain hits Belarus

Sen. John McCain this week denounced the authoritarian government of Belarus for refusing to allow him to lead a congressional delegation to visit the country.

The Belarusian Embassy replied that he would be welcomed after the elections in the former Soviet republic as well as the United States.

The Arizona Republican called Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a dictator who was afraid that four U.S. senators might criticize his “totalitarian rule.” The delegation wanted to meet with Mr. Lukashenko as well as his political opponents.

“While it is no great revelation to find a dictator so insecure that he views as a threat mere visits by elected officials, Mr. Lukashenko’s refusal marks yet one more sad day for the people of Belarus,” Mr. McCain said in a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

He added that Belarus’ refusal to issue visas to his delegation “pales in comparison with recent events on the ground in Belarus.”

“Under Mr. Lukashenko’s leadership, the government has routinely harassed, arrested and attacked democracy advocates,” Mr. McCain said. “These democrats are often guilty of nothing more than spreading and demonstrating against the dictatorship into which their government has descended. …

“Now we add to this growing litany of abuses the barring of elected officials from the United States. President Lukashenko fears even dialogue with advocates of democracy, and for this — as for so much else occurring today in that great but troubled land — friends of Belarus must mourn.”

He cited attacks against pro-democracy leader Gen. Valery Frolov and the imprisonment of another Lukashenko critic, Mikhail Marinich, as recent examples of the government’s crackdown on dissent.

The Belarusian Embassy responded with a statement posted on its Web site (www.belarusembassy.org).

“Belarus is interested in developing constructive dialogue with the United States. We would be happy to welcome a delegation from the U.S. Congress in Belarus. However, the proposed date is not completely acceptable,” the embassy said.

Mr. McCain wanted to visit Belarus this month, but the embassy suggested that the trip be postponed until after the October election in Belarus and the November presidential election in the United States.

Warning lifted

The Bahraini Embassy yesterday applauded a State Department decision to lift a 6-week-old travel warning after finding “no specific” terrorist threats against Americans.

“This is very welcome news. We have been waiting a long time,” said Yasser Ghanim Shaheen, the deputy chief of mission.

He said Bahrain hopes the Pentagon also will reach the same conclusion and allow its nonessential employees and their families to return. The Pentagon issued its order on July 3, the same day as the State Department’s warning. Bahrain, a strong U.S. ally, is home to the Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Mr. Shaheen said his government was disappointed that the United States had taken the action in the first place.

“Nothing happened in Bahrain,” he said. “We did not have any threats. People were shocked. Thank God, nothing happened in Bahrain.”

The small nation in the Persian Gulf is connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia, which has been targeted by terrorists for the past 15 months.

State Department spokeswoman Darla Jordan said the United States lifted its warning for Americans to defer travel to Bahrain after a “careful and thorough review of the existing security situation in Bahrain.”

The U.S. Embassy in Bahrain “has determined that there are currently no specific threats to U.S. mission personnel,” she added.

The warning cited “information that extremists [were] planning attacks against U.S. and other Western interests.”

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

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