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MEPs seek cash fillip for Belarus students

The European Parliament is seeking extra European Union funding for exchange programmes for young Belarusians expelled from their universities and colleges on political grounds.

The MEPs drew attention to the flawed nature of last month's presidential elections in Belarus, with the pressure to vote for the incumbent, Alaksandar Lukashenka, and to the violence with which police broke up the opposition protest camp in Minsk's October Square.

A large proportion of the several hundred protesters detained were students. Under the terms of a presidential decree, students convicted of criminal acts, including criticising the President, are almost always expelled.

The Belarusian human rights watch organisation Viasna reported that expulsions began last week at the Maksim Tank Pedagogic University and the Medical University in Minsk.

Poland has promised university places for at least 300 students, with Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary also pledging support.

Students at risk of expulsion fear a steady dribble of expulsions over the next few months, rather than in one burst more likely to attract world headlines. Others expect the crunch to come at the end-of-session exams.

"They could stop us taking exams on some pretext, then throw us out for not having taken them," one student said.

In the Czech Republic, Jirí Zlatuyška - former rector of Brno's Masaryk University and now a senator in the country's upper house of parliament - urged swift action to help Belarusian students expelled from university or denied an education.

Professor Zlatuyška said the Czech Republic should act now while universities had the capacity to accept additional students.

Offering persecuted students places in Czech universities was both a practical measure and a strong signal of the country's disapproval of the Lukashenka regime, he said.

Education Minister Petra Buzková discussed the issue with the Czech Rectors' Conference and said there would be no obstacles to Belarusians studying in the country, initially in Czech but later in English. Fees would be covered by the ministry, she said.

The Council of Europe strongly condemned the denial of academic freedom in Belarus, after hearing from Anatoly Mikhailov, rector of the European Humanities University and a number of students from Belarus who have been expelled.

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