|Dictator Lukashenko with the Pope|
By Bridget Johnson
Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) don’t agree on much. But they both are working to oust a dictator in a former Soviet state.
Citing the chaos in Egypt, Durbin and McCain are separately trying to spotlight human-rights violations in Belarus.
In an interview with The Hill, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate said the protests and upheaval demanding democratic reforms in Tunisia and Egypt carry a lesson in viewing repressive regimes such as Belarus.
Durbin said, “There are battles going on all over the world, and our support for that effort can make a difference.”
“As we see the events unfolding in the Middle East, we also believe that events should unfold here for the people of Belarus,” McCain said during a Friday news conference with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in Lithuania. “[Belarus President Alexander] Lukashenko is on the wrong side of history, and sooner or later we will see democracy and freedom in Belarus.”
But the former Soviet state stuck in its Soviet ways is not something that most Americans think about, Durbin acknowledged.
“I think most people would struggle to identify where you’d find it [on a map],” the Senate majority whip said.
Last month, Durbin visited Lithuania, where his mother was born. He spoke to the country’s parliament and marked the 20th anniversary of the Soviet “Bloody Sunday” attack on civilians in the capital Vilnius.
Realizing that it was a only three-hour drive to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, Durbin secured a visa and made the trip.
Lukashenko has held onto power with an iron grip since 1994 through internationally criticized elections and a constitutional change that indefinitely extended presidential term limits.
The Dec. 19 election results, handing Lukashenko another term (“a very suspect election,” Durbin notes), resulted in thousands of Belarusians pouring into the streets in protest and seven opposition candidates being arrested, along with some 600 demonstrators.
When Durbin visited, he said, four of those candidates were still being held behind bars. He met with families of jailed activists and candidates and called for the immediate release of their loved ones.
“Most of them had no direct contact with their husbands and sons,” Durbin said.
Story continues here.
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