West should prepare for 'post-Lukashenko Belarus': study

23rd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Western countries can bring about democratic change in Belarus and should start preparing for a new era without strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, a study by two US think tanks said on Friday.

The report by the Center for European Policy Analysis and Freedom House titled "Democratic Change in Belarus" called for foreign funding to be directed towards opposition media and political parties.

"The persistence of an unreconstructed dictatorship on Europe's doorstep represents unfinished business for Western governments and the people of Belarus," the report said.

It gives a list of recommendations for the "policy puzzle" of the ex-Soviet state and "preparing for a post-Lukashenko Belarus."

Lukashenko, who in December won highly controversial presidential polls, is now face to face with the biggest economic challenge to his 17-year-old rule as an unravelling currency crisis has now led to unprecedented inflation and shortages of various products.

He has also overseen a systematic crackdown on opposition groups and independent media in the country, which included sentencing dozens of protestors and presidential candidates to lengthy prison terms.

"While it's vital to temper optimism over the potential for change... the present circumstances are particularly conducive for Western action," the report said.

Suggested economic and diplomatic manoeuvres included lobbying on the part of the United States against a bailout loan of $8 billion from the International Monetary Fund and for the suspension of the 2014 World Ice Hockey Championship in Minsk in order to push for the release of political prisoners.

Politically, "as long as Lukashenko remains in power, Western funding preferences should... target material support for civil and opposition groups -- including political parties."

Western governments should also help the people of Belarus prevent Lukashenko from causing a "self-inflicted economic catastrophe" by "selling off the country's valuable economic assets", notably to Russia.

Russia and Belarus are in negotiations over a $2 billion rescue loan which stipulates giving Russia a major stake in a Belarussian potash miner, one of the world's biggest producers of the mineral.

© 2011 AFP

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