US embassy says Belarus ‘forces closure’ of humanitarian arm

The embassy says that the government of Belarus informed it of the “new measures” that force the closure of the wings of Public Diplomacy and USAID.

The US embassy in Minsk has said that Belarusian authorities are “forcing closure” of their humanitarian and civil society programs in the country.

In a statement, the embassy said that the authorities had informed it of “new measures” that would force the closure of its Public Diplomacy wing and the Minsk offices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Civil society and aid programs, the embassy said, “have benefited Belarusians since the 1990s.”

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

The embassy’s cultural and educational programs enabled more than 5,000 Belarusians “to pursue academic and professional development in the United States,” he said.

More recently, the programs allocated funds to “provide key relief from COVID-19 when Belarusian authorities dismissed the pandemic,” the statement said.

Washington’s special envoy for Belarus Julie Fisher said on Twitter that the United States “will not be deterred from our commitment to reinforce fundamental freedoms in Belarus.”

“Our efforts to support health, education and economic improvement in Belarus will continue,” he said.

In power since 1994, Belarus’ strong leader Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on civil society groups and organizations with Western ties since unprecedented protests broke out against his disputed re-election last year.

The opposition maintains that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was the real winner of that presidential election. She was forced to leave Belarus after mass protests broke out over the disputed vote last year, and she currently lives in neighboring Lithuania.

On Friday, Tsikhanouskaya said she was “grateful” to US organizations “for years of developing the friendship between Belarus and the United States.”

“They will return to [a] new Belarus. I ask you to continue [their] working for Belarusians – we see and value this continued support, ”he said on Twitter.

In August, the anniversary of the elections, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order expanding sanctions against Belarus, targeting many officials, executives and companies. The action was coordinated with the United Kingdom and Canada, and Biden cited “electoral fraud, followed by a brutal campaign of repression to quell dissent” perpetrated by Lukashenko.

The sanctions also hit the Belarusian National Olympic Committee after the body attacked Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya for criticizing her coaches during the Tokyo Olympics. Tsimanouskaya has applied for refugee status in Poland.

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