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Sunday, July 23, 2006

If you want to see Russia's future, just look in the crystal ball called Belarus

In fact, it's not actually Russia's future that you will see so much as it is Russia's current reflection, with a bit less polish and style (if such a thing can be said to be possible). Moreover, before we know it the two countries may actually become one.

Below, via the Moscow News, is what happens to someone who dares to run for president in Russia and isn't the one the regime has decided should be the winner. Of course, this same thing is happening in Russia (Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in Siberia, remember) except that the Russians are a bit more efficient and put the challengers in jail before they get a chance to run for office (or, as in the case of Galina Starovoitova, simply kill them). If Russia were a civilized country, there would at least be a protest movement going on to oppose this type of thing, but then of course we all know that Russia isn't a civilized country.

The United States has condemned the conviction and sentencing on July 13 of former Belarusian presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin, the State Department official website says.Convicted of “hooliganism” and disturbing the peace, Kozulin was sentenced to five and one-half years in a medium security colony by the court of Maskouski district in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.“The entire trial was a politically motivated process designed to punish Kozulin for expressing his political views,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in a statement released July 14.“As we have done in the past, we will take steps to impose appropriate sanctions on those responsible for this abuse of a Belarusian citizen’s rights,” McCormack said.In June, President Bush imposed targeted financial sanctions on Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and nine other top officials in his government. In May, Bush banned travel to the United States by Lukashenko and those associated with his regime.In announcing the sanctions, the White House cited as justification the government’s human rights abuses, corruption and assaults on democracy, as well as the “fraudulent” presidential election in March and post-election repression of the opposition. The United States refused to accept the results of the elections and supported the opposition’s call for new elections.Kozulin, a former rector of Belarusian State University, was arrested March 25 while leading a peaceful protest against the rigged election.The European Union joined the United States in condemning Kozulin’s conviction and sentencing.In the July 14 State Department statement, McCormack called on Belarusian authorities “to free Kozulin and all those being held on politically motivated charges, including the four civic activists associated with the non-partisan monitoring group Partnership.”Partnership is a Belarusian non-governmental organization devoted to training Belarusians to be election observers and educating Belarusians on their voter rights under Belarusian law

In related news, the Associated Press reports that the thuggery continues in a systemmatic assault against all who dare to challenge the regime (remember, Russia has the power to stop this any time it wants to):

MINSK -- Belarussian security agents beat and detained an opposition presidential candidate on Thursday, just two weeks before the country holds an election expected to return President Alexander Lukashenko to power.

Hours later, several thousand opposition supporters massed for an unsanctioned rally in a square in central Minsk. A large contingent of riot police stood guard and pushed back the crowd, which chanted "Freedom."

"Victory will be ours," opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich -- the main presidential challenger to Lukashenko -- told his supporters defiantly before the rally dispersed peacefully.
Alexander Kozulin, the opposition candidate who was beaten and detained after he tried to enter a conference chaired by Lukashenko, said he attempted to attend it because "I wanted to tell the truth about the dictatorship we live in."

He and three members of his campaign were beaten, and Kozulin was taken to a police station. Later in the evening, he was released.

A human rights group, meanwhile, said some 60 opposition activists were arrested Thursday throughout Minsk.

It characterized the arrests as the beginning of a campaign to crush the opposition before the March 19 elections in which Lukashenko is seeking a new term.

U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on Thursday decried Belarus' actions against the opposition, saying, "We would like [the election] to be free and fair, and a prerequisite of free and fair elections is that you don't beat up opposition candidates or opposition supporters and throw them in jail."

The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is deploying an election observer mission in Belarus, also expressed concern about Thursday's arrests.

Lukashenko and other officials claim the opposition is receiving aid from the West with the aim of provoking an uprising after the election, similar to mass demonstrations in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan that helped drive longtime leaders out of power over the past two years.

Sergei Yevtushenko, a representative of Ukraine's Pora movement, one of the driving forces in the 2004 Orange Revolution, said nine Ukrainian journalists and Pora members were detained Thursday and told they would be deported.

Lukashenko told the conference in Minsk that the opposition leaders were "mercenary opponents of our society and our people."

The opposition "will be dismantled in a tough way after the elections," he said in a four-hour address to a conference, which was frequently interrupted by lengthy applause from delegates.
Kozulin's spokeswoman, Nina Shidlovskaya, said that one of the men who had beaten the candidate was the commander of a riot police unit; other assailants were in plainclothes.

Police fired warning shots, then beat and rounded up about 20 Kozulin supporters who gathered at the police station to demand his release. Kozulin's lawyer, Igor Rynkevich, who demanded access to his client, was also detained.

A Reuters television cameraman, Dmitry Modorsky, was beaten and hospitalized. Plainclothes security officers, armed with pistols, also shot the tire of a car in which a television cameraman was reportedly trying to escape, to force it to stop.

Kozulin, whose Social Democratic Party had nominated him as a delegate to the conference, will be charged with hooliganism, prosecutors said.

The head of the Vyasna human rights center, Ales Byalyatsky, said about 60 opposition members were rounded up on Thursday.

"The first shots have already been heard, a total cleanup of the opposition has begun," he said

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