Thursday, 2 December, 2021
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Belarus forcing closure of aid offices: US

Belarus forcing closure of aid offices: US

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MOSCOW: The US embassy in Minsk on Friday said Belarusian authorities were "forcing the closure" of its humanitarian and civil society programmes in the authoritarian country, reports AFP.

In power since 1994, strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on civil society groups and organisations with Western links since unprecedented protests erupted against his disputed re-election last year.

The US embassy said in a statement that authorities informed it of "new measures" that would force the closure of its Public Diplomacy wing and the Minsk offices of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The civil society and aid programmes, the embassy said, "have benefitted Belarusians since the 1990s".

"More than 36,000 orphans and vulnerable people" received USAID assistance in Belarus since 2006, the diplomatic mission said.

The embassy's cultural and educational programs allowed more than 5,000 Belarusians to "pursue academic and professional development in the United States", it said.

Most recently, the programmes allocated funds to "provide key Covid-19 relief when Belarusian authorities were dismissive of the pandemic", the statement said.

Washington's special envoy for Belarus, Julie Fisher, said on Twitter that the US "will not be deterred from our commitment to bolster fundamental freedoms in Belarus".

"Our efforts to support health, education, and economic improvement in Belarus will continue," she said.

Belarus's opposition leader in exile, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said she was "thankful" to the US organisations "for years of developing Belarus-American friendship".

"They will return to (a) new Belarus. I ask them to continue (their) work for Belarusians -- we see and value this consistent support," she said on Twitter.

The opposition says Tikhanovskaya was the true winner of a presidential election last year. She was forced to leave Belarus after mass protests over the disputed vote erupted last year, and currently lives in neighbouring Lithuania.

In August, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order expanding sanctions on Belarus, targeting a slew of officials, business executives and companies.