The Soros Foundation yesterday announced the closure of its branch in Belarus because of systematic pressure, punitive taxes and fines, and the seizure of its bank accounts by the authorities, all in violation of the Foundation’s status as a charity. The Foundation stated that it is prepared to resume its activity in Belarus if assured that it will be permitted to function normally. However, Foundation officials said that the authorities warned them not to expect such cooperation once it pulls out. In an accompanying personal statement, the financier and philanthropist George Soros linked these measures to the authorities’ crackdown on civil freedoms in Belarus, the only post-Communist country to persecute the Foundation.
The Foundation’s Belarus branch spent some $13 million in 1994-97 to support various educational, cultural, and social programs and to encourage the emergence of a civil society through independent non-governmental groups. The government in recent months blocked the Foundation’s financial operations, wiretapped its office telephones, expelled its director, and threatened criminal proceedings against local staff. Representatives of Belarusan democratic groups regard these measures as part of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s effort to increase the international isolation of Belarus. (RIA, AP, September 3)
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