Ukraine calls on Belarus to open talks with opposition - 21 March, 2006 - News

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday urged Belarus to refrain from using force against protesters gathered in central Minsk in what the Belarusian opposition hopes will be a replay of the peaceful 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

Belarusian opposition activists have looked to Ukraine's Orange Revolution protests as a model in their efforts to discredit Sunday's presidential vote, which official results declare authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko won by a landslide.

"We call on Belarusian authorities to safeguard its people's right to a peaceful gathering ... to be tolerant and avoid any forceful actions against its citizens," Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasily Filipchuk told reporters.

The Belarusian activists have set up a small tent camp on a main Minsk square that echoes the much larger tent city that sprouted in Ukraine in 2004.

The Orange Revolution protests were triggered by widespread election fraud in a Ukrainian presidential election, which led to that election being declared invalid. A court ordered a revote, which was won by the pro-western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.

Filipchuk urged Lukashenko to open talks with the opposition and take steps toward democracy.

"Democratic society is waiting for concrete steps from Belarusian authorities, directed at bringing democracy to every aspect of life," he said, reading an official statement.

Filipchuk added that Ukraine shares international concerns that Sunday's presidential vote was neither free nor fair, but Kiev does not support Western calls to isolate its neighbor, reports the AP.

I.L.