- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

WARSAW | Poland’s foreign minister warned Belarus‘ autocratic president on Wednesday that he is at risk of being overthrown by his own people if they follow the example of protesters in Tunisia and Egypt.

“Soon a jet plane will have to be kept on standby in Minsk,” Radek Sikorski said, referring to the capital of Belarus.

Mr. Sikorski spoke at an international donors conference in Warsaw where governments were pledging money and other forms of support for the democratic opposition in Belarus, which faces censorship and the constant threat of arrest under President Alexander Lukashenko.

The foreign minister pledged Europe’s continuing support to the people of Belarus and said he had a clear message for Mr. Lukashenko.

“You are losing,” he said. “Sooner or later you will have to flee your own country, your own people.”

“The people in Belarus have the right to have a reasonable government,” Mr. Sikorski said at the conference, which was attended by about 200 representatives from the United States, Canada, European governments and pro-democracy groups.

Mr. Lukashenko, often called “Europe’s last dictator,” has ruled the nation of 10 million with an iron hand for more than 16 years. He has kept industry under Soviet-style state control and suppressed opposition with police raids and pressure, but his fiery populism and efforts to maintain a Soviet-style social safety net have kept him popular with the working class and the elderly.

Protests in Belarus were brutally dispersed and opposition candidates arrested in December after a presidential election that international monitors regarded as fraudulent. Mr. Lukashenko was declared the winner, claiming almost 80 percent of the vote.

The European Union’s enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, announced that the EU would quadruple its aid to the families of those facing repression in Belarus. That will raise EU aid to $21 million annually to expelled students, independent media outlets and opposition organizations.

The United States pledged this week to boost its annual aid contribution of $11 million by 30 percent, and Poland said it was doubling aid to $14 million.

Activists said they hope the conference in Warsaw will help maintain international interest in the plight of the struggle for democracy in Belarus.

“We would very much like for the world to remember the events in Belarus for as long as possible because now the attention is being directed to other events in the world, like the unrest in Egypt,” said Dzmitry Novikau, president of the board of the independent European Radio for Belarus, which transmits news into the country from Warsaw.



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