Tue, 02 Mar 2021

Volkswagen's Skoda Auto will not sponsor this year's ice hockey world championship if the event is held in Belarus, due to the host country's recent state violence against peaceful protesters, the carmaker said on January 16.

Belarus, which is due to host the tournament in May-June, is facing calls for it to be stripped of the event because of strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka's crackdown on protesters following his disputed reelection.

'We've been a proud partner for 28 years. But we also respect & promote all human rights,' the carmaker said in a tweet.

'Therefore, SKODA will withdraw from sponsoring the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship if Belarus is confirmed to be co-hosting the event,' Skoda said.

Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said earlier he could not imagine the tournament taking place in Belarus, saying that would 'legitimize a repressive regime."

Many European countries have been calling for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to cancel Minsk's involvement over the violent crackdown, as well as fears that Lukashenka's government has failed to control the coronavirus pandemic and is underreporting cases and deaths.

The 2020 tournament in Switzerland was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), Rene Fasel, said he 'regrets the negative reaction' to his meeting with Lukashenka in Minsk and it wasn't a sign of support for the authoritarian president's violent crackdown on demonstrators.

Lukashenka, 66, has faced months of protests demanding he step down following the disputed presidential election in August 2020.

Nearly 30,000 people have been detained, with hundreds reportedly tortured in detention and beaten on the streets in the postelection crackdown by the government.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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