Senator urges delay of world ice hockey tourney in Minsk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate’s number two Democrat urged on Monday for the postponement of the International Ice Hockey Championship planned for Minsk in 2014 citing concerns over human rights in Belarus.

Dick Durbin, the Senate’s assistant majority leader, visited Minsk in January and met human rights and opposition activists, including the families of some who had been jailed.

He wrote to the International Ice Hockey Federation in Zurich urging it to suspend the 2014 championship until Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko “releases all the country’s political prisoners, many of which were arrested during the country’s recent December 19 presidential election.

“Quite simply, his (Lukashenko’s) regime should not be rewarded with the prestige associated with hosting the 2014 International Ice Hockey Championship while his citizens languish in jail for peacefully trying to exercise minimal political freedoms,” Durbin wrote in a letter that was released by his office.

The letter was also signed by a member of the European Parliament, National Hockey League Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, as well as congressman Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Durbin’s state of Illinois.

Lukashenko is at odds with Western governments over a police crackdown on an opposition rally against his re-election last December, when police arrested hundreds of people during a night of protests.

The European Union and the United States have imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko and his closest associates because of the December 19 crackdown. He has said the opposition rally was an attempted coup financed by the West.

Last month, the Senate passed a resolution calling for the hockey federation to suspend the 2014 championship until all political detainees in Belarus are released.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Senator urges delay of world ice hockey tourney in Minsk