- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2011

TOUGH TALK ON BELARUS

Former U.S. diplomats and human rights activists are urging President Obama to impose tougher sanctions against the autocratic president of Belarus for ordering violent attacks on peaceful anti-government demonstrators.

In an open letter to Mr. Obama, 19 prominent activists called for the administration to match sanctions from the European Union against President Alexander Lukashenko, often called “Europe’s last dictator.”

They noted that Mr. Obama has “shown leadership” by earlier condemnations of violent crackdowns on protesters and by his extension of sanctions imposed by President George W. Bush in 2006.

“But we urge you to consider additional measures focused on bringing about the immediate release of all political prisoners in Belarus and to reiterate America’s deep concern regarding reports of torture and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment of detainees,” they said.

Belarusian police fired tear gas into a crowd of demonstrators and arrested dozens of protesters on Sunday in the capital, Minsk. A day later, they arrested nearly 300 demonstrators in Minsk and 80 in other parts of the country.

Mr. Lukashenko, fighting the strongest challenge to his 17-year rule, vowed Sunday to crush any attempt to overthrow his government. Western reporters described him dressed in a military uniform and reviewing a parade of “goose-stepping soldiers and 160 pieces of hardware” during the July 3 celebration of Belarus‘ independence.

In their letter to Mr. Obama, the activists noted the “crippling financial crisis caused by years of profligate state spending and reckless economic policies” under Mr. Lukashenko.

“The people of Belarus have borne the brunt of this calamity, watching their savings and real wealth plummet, even as the prices of food, fuel and other imported good have skyrocketed,” they said.

“But rather than addressing the needs of his citizens, President Lukashenko has threatened to close the country’s borders, promised to ‘whack’ activists who organize protests over the Internet and invested his efforts in sustaining a repressive crackdown on members of the opposition, civil society and journalists.”

U.S. sanctions on Mr. Lukashenko and his top cronies already include a freeze on assets and a prohibition against traveling to the United States.

The activists urged Mr. Obama to adopt tougher EU sanctions, which include an arms embargo against Belarus. They also called on the White House to oppose any financial assistance to Belarus from organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.

The signers of the letter included Victor Ashe, U.S. ambassador to Poland from 1987 to 2003; Ian Brzezinski, deputy undersecretary of defense from 2001 to 2005; David J. Kramer, assistant secretary of state from 2008 to 2009; Kurt Volker, U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2009; and Belarusian human rights activist Irina Krasovskaya.

BEAT ON THE 4TH OF JULY

His faith fizzled like a soggy firecracker when U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson watched Canadian chefs win a cooking contest in the all-American ritual of a Fourth of July barbecue.

“I must say this was a surprise,” Mr. Jacobson told reporters at his diplomatic residence in Ottawa. “It’s like the Cubs winning the World Series.”

The Chicago Cubs won their last World Series in 1908.

More than 4,000 guests attended the afternoon celebration under clear summer skies to sample chicken, ribs and pork butt sizzling over grills stoked by three teams of Canadian cooks and three teams of Americans.

The Canadians swept the competition in all three categories.

The Ottawa Citizen newspaper provided some of the vital statistics: 1,480 pounds of pork, 1,200 pounds of pork butt, 1,620 pounds of chicken and 3,700 cans of beer.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email [email protected] The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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