[JURIST] US Vice President Dick Cheney [official website] on Thursday called on the Belarus [JURIST news archive] government to release opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich [official website; Wikipedia profile], who was jailed [JURIST report] last week for attending an illegal demonstration. Calling Belarus the "last dictatorship in Europe," Cheney urged Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko [official website; BBC profile] to release Milinkevich and other opposition activists. Delivering the keynote address [transcript] at the Vilnius Conference 2006 [official website], Cheney said:
All of us are committed to democratic progress in Belarus. That nation has suffered in major wars and experienced terrible losses, and now its people are denied basic freedoms by the last dictatorship in Europe. With us today are democracy advocates from Belarus. We welcome you to this conference. I had also expected to meet today with the opposition leader, Alyaksander Milinkevich -- but he was recently put in jail by the regime in Minsk. The regime should end this injustice and free Mr. Milinkevich, along with the other democracy advocates held in captivity. The world knows what is happening in Belarus. Peaceful demonstrators have been beaten, dissidents have vanished, and a climate of fear prevails under a government that subverts free elections and bans your own country's flag. There is no place in a Europe whole and free for a regime of this kind. The people of Belarus deserve better. You have the right to determine your destiny. And your great nation has a future in the community of democracies.Cheney also had harsh words for Russia [JURIST news archive] over its human rights record, saying "In many areas of civil society -- from religion and the news media, to advocacy groups and political parties -- the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people." Cheney urged Russia to renew its efforts to adopt democratic reforms. The New York Times has more.