Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

Lithuanian president meets with Belarus` presidential hopefuls

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis met with a group of Belarus` pro-democratic presidential contenders in Minsk on October 20.

Taking part in the meeting at the Lithuanian embassy were Ryhor Kastusyow, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front; Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, leader of the "Tell the Truth!" campaign; Yaraslaw Ramanchuk, deputy chairman of the United Civic Party; Vital Rymashewski, co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party; and Andrey Sannikaw, a former deputy foreign minister who leads an opposition group called European Belarus.

"We discussed the Belarusian presidential campaign, difficulties associated with the registration of public associations, press freedom and the Criminal Codes Article 193-1 that carries punishment for acting on behalf of an unregistered organization," Mr. Rymashewski commented to BelaPAN. "And of course, we mulled Belarus geopolitical choice."

"No disputes arouse on key issues," he said. "Belarus should strictly abide by democratic European standards for both elections and human rights."
Mr. Rymashewski said that the Lithuanian president had discussed the denial of registration for Belarusian Christian Democracy when meeting with Alyaksandr Lukashenka earlier in the day. "It is very important for us," he said. "Because crackdown on BCD activists continues."

Mr. Sannikaw said that he had voiced criticism of the European Union for its "strange silence" over high-profile disappearances in Belarus. "In my opinion, people dont support Lukashenka and they want changes. Chances of getting rid of the dictatorship in the heart of Europe are quite strong today. The Lithuanian side said that it was well aware of the situation in Belarus, was keeping a close watch on it and holding regular consultations with other EU member states."

At the same time, Mr. Ramanchuk told BelaPAN that he had "mixed" feelings about the meeting. "The purpose of Grybauskaites visit remained unclear," he said. "Lithuania attempted to fix some pragmatic matters ahead of the election [in Belarus], but such matters should not be on the agenda ahead of elections. And I am inclined to agree with some analysts who say that the visit was aimed at showing political support for Lukashenka."

Ms. Grybauskaite called on opposition groups to unite in the election campaign and repeated Mr. Lukashenkas promise that all contenders managing to collect the required 100,000 ballot-access signatures would be registered as candidates and members of their nomination groups would be included in local election commissions, he said. "But these promises are worth nothing," he said. "We would like to see a better consolidated and harsher position of Lithuania and the European Union on the matter."

Mr. Ramanchuk said that he also fretted about Lithuanias reluctance to raise the disappearance of Mr. Lukashenkas opponents at the EU level.

Mr. Nyaklyayew indicated that he was disappointed with the meeting. "I had the impression that the Belarusian opposition should not expect some support from either Russia or the European Union in the coming election," he said. "They are not going to support anyone. Responsibility for the future of Belarus is on our shoulders. We expected outside support in 2001 and 2006. But Grybauskaites visit made it clear that we should try to get along on our own."