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Norway concerned about developments in Belarus

“The situation in Belarus after the protests following the presidential election is still giving cause for deep concern,” said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

“We call for the immediate release of political prisoners. Norway intends to respond by introducing targeted sanctions, as the EU and US have done. We will strengthen our support for groups who are working for democracy and human rights,” the Foreign Minister continued.

State Secretary Espen Barth Eide is taking part in the Warsaw International Donor Conference on 2 February. This is intended to improve coordination of the international community’s policy towards Belarus and its support for the democratic movement in the country.

Like the EU, Norway intends to introduce travel bans and a freeze on assets targeting Belarusian officials who have been involved in electoral fraud or in the brutal repression of demonstrations after the presidential election. “We do not wish to target the Belarusian people. On the contrary, we will increase our support for civil society and students in Belarus,” Mr Støre explained.

Norway will increase support for project cooperation with Belarus from NOK 15 million in 2010 to NOK 20 million in 2011. Norway will continue to support Belarusian civil society through project cooperation involving Norwegian NGOs.

Norway has also announced a new contribution to the European Humanities University (EHU), which was closed by the Belarusian authorities in 2004 and has re-located to Vilnius. This is the only Belarusian university that is committed to academic freedom and encourages students to think creatively and critically.

“It is vitally important that Belarusian students are given the opportunity to develop such skills, which are of fundamental importance in a democratic society. Norway will therefore provide a grant of NOK 6 million to the university over a two-year period. In addition, we will contribute NOK 600 000 to an emergency fund for students who are excluded from universities in Belarus, so that they can complete their studies at the EHU”, announced the Foreign Minister.

Minister of Research and Higher Education Tora Aasland has taken the initiative for a joint letter from education ministers in seven European countries to their colleague in Belarus. In their letter, they express their concern about the situation for students and academic staff who took part in the protests after the presidential election, and about the lack of academic freedom in Belarus.

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