- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Don’t forget Belarus

Pro-democracy advocates from Belarus focused attention on their repressive government as they visited Washington to seek U.S. support for the dissident movement in the former Soviet republic.

Their trip last week preceded another daylong demonstration outside the Belarussian Embassy tomorrow, beginning at 10 a.m., to continue highlighting the political abuses in the current presidential election campaign. Organizers plan to hold another rally outside the diplomatic mission at 1619 New Hampshire Ave. NW next month before the March 19 election.

The dissidents who met with administration officials and public policy groups were Svetlana Zavadskaya, president of the Dmitry Zavadsky Foundation, named for her journalist husband, who disappeared in Belarus; Olga Stuzhinskaya, Brussels coordinator of the Democratic Belarus pro-democracy group; and Marina Rakhlei, a reporter for the independent BelaPAN news agency.

Speaking at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, they urged the audience “not to abandon” the Belarussian democracy movement after the election, which the reformers are expected to lose.

Mrs. Zavadskaya said her country stands at a “historical threshold,” and called the election the “last chance for the Belarussian opposition to bring about change.”

They said the opposition is unified behind Alexander Milinkevich in his challenge to President Alexander Lukashenko, who controls the election machinery, including access to the media.

R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, assured them of U.S. support in a meeting Friday.

He expressed the United States’ “deep and continuing interest in Belarus, both ahead and after the March 19 election.”

“We want the people of Belarus to join the rest of the continent and help complete the transition to a Europe whole, free and at peace,” Mr. Burns said.

The Joint Baltic American National Committee organized tomorrow’s protest, at which Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican, is expected to speak. He is a member of the House International Relations subcommittee on Europe and emerging threats.

“The congressman has been a great supporter of democracy and freedom in Belarus,” the committee said.

‘Win-win’ trade deal

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea yesterday called a proposed free-trade deal a “classic win-win scenario” for both countries.

Ambassador Alexander R. Vershbow also said the deal would benefit South Korea by increasing its economy to deal with the social costs of an aging population, according to a report in the Korea Times. It would also help to close the income gap between small businesses and large corporations.

“Sustained growth will be harder to achieve when the labor force is not growing,” he told the Institute for Global Economics. “Social costs could become prohibitively expensive without growth. The key solution must be productivity growth, especially in services, using fewer people.”

Negotiators from both sides are expected to begin talks on a free-trade deal in May. A dispute over South Korea’s rice market, however, already is threatening to cause a deadlock.

Park Hong-soo, South Korea’s minister for agriculture and forestry, said this week that his government plans to maintain a tariff on foreign rice. The United States, however, insists that the rice market be opened as part of a free-trade agreement.

The agreement could increase South Korea’s gross domestic product by 2 percent annually and boost exports to the United States by 15 percent, according to a South Korean government report.

Mr. Vershbow said a free-trade deal also would have broader implications in Asia.

“We hope that the increased trade and investment between Korea and the U.S. resulting from this [free-trade agreement] will help inspire Japan and China to accelerate their own market opening and economic reform,” he said.

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

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