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Belarus Expels US Citizen

By Marina Babkina

Associated Press Writer

Sunday, August 26, 2001; 2:31 PM

MINSK, Belarus –– Belarus has expelled a U.S. citizen for allegedly conspiring with the opposition to oust President Alexander Lukashenko in next month's presidential election.

Robert Fielding was accused by Belarus' security service, still known as the KGB, of interfering in the country's internal affairs by campaigning for opposition candidate Vladimir Goncharik, a trade union leader.

Fielding, an AFL-CIO official, is also accused of supporting a plot by the opposition to overthrow Lukashenko through mass protests if he wins the Sept. 9 ballot, according to a television report citing the KGB.

Belarusian journalists said Fielding was detained Saturday at a hotel in the town of Grodno and that he was sent to neighboring Poland. KGB footage showed him being placed on a train.

The KGB said Fielding has visited Belarus repeatedly, purportedly to share his experiences with fellow labor activists but in reality to help prepare "for an unconstitutional removal of the president from power."

Lukashenko has been criticized by Western leaders for consolidating power, suppressing dissent and resisting reforms of the ailing, Soviet-style economy.

But he is popular among many in this impoverished nation of 10 million sandwiched between Russia and Poland for his nostalgia for the Soviet era as well as for the steady salaries and social subsidies he has managed to provide.

Belarusian authorities have accused foreigners, including observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of plotting to overthrow the president.

The government already has denied visas to two OSCE election observers, one Briton and one American, though the Foreign Ministry said the step was not related to their work.


Belarus Protests U.S. Criticism

By Marina Babkina

Associated Press Writer

Wednesday, August 29, 2001; 2:01 PM

MINSK, Belarus –– Belarus' foreign minister denounced a statement by the U.S. State Department accusing the Belarusian government of obstructing the electoral process and questioning the fairness of upcoming presidential elections.

"It's a crude and direct interference in the affairs of Belarus," Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov said on state television Wednesday. "We have again confirmed our readiness to conduct open, fair, transparent and democratic elections." (...)

In Washington on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher raised doubts about the fairness of the election campaign. He expressed concern over the recent seizure of a special edition of an opposition newspaper and the closure of a printing house frequently used by non-state media.

Boucher also said the United States takes seriously allegations that government-run death squads were involved in the disappearance of leading pro-democracy politicians over the last two years.

Lukashenko blasted allegations that his administration is involved in the disappearances. He said the accusations came from Belarusians who had fled to the West and taken foreign money to "poison the people" with propaganda.

"The opposition can tell that they are going to lose the election, and that is why filth is gushing from the media," he said on national television Tuesday.

Khvostov said Washington was supporting Lukashenko's challengers in the vote, and that Belarus was being bombarded with Western demands about how it should run the election. (...)

Kimmo Kiljunen, a member of the Finnish parliament, said at a news conference that he was surprised by the low level of voter interest in the election, which Lukashenko is widely expected to win. He remains popular among many Belarusians for his nostalgia for the Soviet era and for keeping many social subsidies.

Belarus: U.S., Europe Foment Unrest

By Marina Babkina

Associated Press Writer

Thursday, September 6, 2001; 10:39 AM

MINSK, Belarus –– The foreign minister of Belarus accused the United States and other Western governments on Thursday of interfering in the country's internal affairs and plotting to oust the president.

Speaking to foreign journalists, Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov said the former Soviet republic is "experiencing a certain pressure" in the days before Sunday's presidential election.

"We have information about the use of diplomatic channels for putting direct pressure on government structures, we know about mechanisms for providing direct financial aid to opposition structures and the radical press on the part of the West," he said.

The allegations came a day after an official newspaper accused the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe of acting as an umbrella for Western spy services that allegedly want to overthrow Lukashenko. The OSCE strongly denied the charges.

Khvostov said there was "no reason not to trust" the report, adding that the Foreign Ministry had information confirming it.

Khvostov accused the head of the OSCE mission in Belarus, Hans-Georg Wieck, of being "a full-time professional spy."

Lukashenko, who has led this European nation of 10 million since 1994, is popular thanks to his firebrand style and attempts to hold together the Soviet-era social safety net. In 1996, he extended his original five-year term by two years through a referendum that most Western governments refused to recognize

Belarus courts US foes

Castro is just one of Lukashenko's new friends

The US Ambassador to Belarus, Michael Kozak, arrived in Minsk in October 2000 - but President Alexander Lukashenko refuses to either meet him or accept his diplomatic accreditation.

Mr Kozak might have thought waiting two months for an audience with President Lukashenko was bad enough, but then came the ultimate insult.

Lukashenko: Snubbing the US ambassador

He failed to invite Mr Kozak to his New Year reception, held for foreign diplomats on January 13 - the Orthodox New Year.

The snub, left without comment by the US embassy, did, however, receive attention at a news conference in the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

'European Cuba'

There, a spokesman confirmed that Mr Kozak had, indeed, not been invited to the reception - and not because of of a mix-up with invitations.

The New Year in Belarus's diplomatic relations with the outside world appears to have got off to rather a bad start.

This is a disappointing state of affairs since the new Belarusian foreign minister recently announced that his country wanted to improve its very poor relations with the US and Europe.

Belarus's neighbours look on with incredulity

Mr Kozak arrived in Belarus after a spell on the Caribbean island of Cuba.

And although he undoubtedly knew what he was talking about when he compared life in communist Havana with that in post-Soviet Belarus, calling this nation of 10 million a "European Cuba", probably was not the most thoughtful thing to do publicly.

But it is not the first time President Lukashenko has demonstrated his irritation with foreign ambassadors.

Other memorable occasions include the news conference at which Mr Lukashenko produced security service transcripts of private conversations between western ambassadors in their embassies in Minsk.


Or the wholesale eviction - due to "essential repairs" - of western ambassadors from the Drozdy out-of-town residence.

Belarusian observers put the evictions down to Mr Lukashenko's personal displeasure at his residence being located next to those of the western diplomats.

It is a sad situation for Belarusian diplomacy, which is now reduced to accusing the US and the west in general of "dual standards" in relation to Belarus.

Instead, Belarus's envoys are busy building new links with Libya, Iraq, Cuba and Syria.

(...) While Minsk continues to distance itself politically from its geographic home in the centre of the European continent, Mr Kozak might find himself having to wait considerably longer for his diplomatic accreditation.

(BBC NEWS, 13 January, 2001, By Eurasia analyst Steven Eke)

Belarus leader accuses OSCE

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has accused the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of plotting to undermine his government.

The accusation came after Western officials had expressed concern that Belarus's national elections, scheduled for 9 September, will not be free or fair.

Mr Lukashenko on Tuesday called OSCE official Hans-Georg Wick "the chief of the headquarters of the entire Belarusian opposition".

The OSCE, of which Belarus is a member, hoped to send five observers to the former Soviet state on Wednesday, to start monitoring the candidate registration process and the election campaign.

But their entry was delayed by the Belarus government.

A government spokesman was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying there were problems with the OSCE's paperwork, but he added that an invitation to the observers would be issued soon (...)

'No Kostunica'

President Lukashenko accused the OSCE observers of planning a disinformation campaign.

He said they planned to interview voters and pass the information on to foreign journalists, who would "directly send this allegedly correct information to all channels."

"At the beginning of the official count, there will be declared some 'Belarusian Kostunica'," he said, referring to Vojislav Kostunica, who won the Yugoslav elections last year, but whose victory was recognised only after a popular uprising.

Then, the following day, "the victory of Lukashenko will be declared... but not agreeing with this, 10,000 people will gather at the presidential residence and attack it," he said.

"[But] there will be no Kostunica... I will defend myself and won't sit things out in a bunker like [ousted Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic," he was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

Mr Lukashenko predicted he would receive 90% of the votes.

But Belarus's opposition parties have united behind a single candidate, in the hope to muster enough support to topple him.

(BBC NEWS - Wednesday, 1 August, 2001)

Alexander Lukashenko: a profile

President Lukashenko knows precisely what the West thinks of him, and frequently makes clear what he thinks of the West. If he did not know, the country's secret police would tell him.

In 1996 he accused a group of Western diplomats of plotting together to undermine him, at a meeting held in one of their embassies. His statement revealed that someone had been listening in to the ambassadors' conversation, but the urge to vent his anger was paramount.

President Lukashenko is not a pragmatist. He does not shrink from verbal attacks against leading Russian government ministers, and has even criticised President Boris Yeltsin.

His security forces have arrested an American diplomat for observing an opposition rally. And when Belarussian troops shot down two American balloonists who ventured into the country's airspace they won the president's commendation (...)

Mr Lukashenko came to power by winning a landslide election victory in 1994. He was an outsider, who unexpectedly beat a pillar of the former Communist establishment.

Voters were fed up with falling living standards, and Mr Lukashenko, a young former collective farm director, had two strong cards: as a member of parliament he had led a much-publicised anti-corruption campaign, and he spoke with the voice of a man of the people, rather than as a Soviet apparatchik. Voters believed his promise to stop prices rising (...)

Sport is one of Mr Lukashenko's passions. He attended the Winter Olympics as the chairman of the Belarussian Olympic Committee, even though the International Olympic Committee's rules theoretically forbid high state officials from holding such a post.

On an earlier occasion, he declined to meet the chairman of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, Leni Fischer, who was visiting Minsk, on the grounds that he had an important football match to attend. Fifty thousand fans are waiting for me, he said, I cannot let them down.

(BBC NEWS - Friday, 19 June, 1998, By regional analyst Stephen Mulvey )

Wild accusations herald Belarus vote

Lukashenko says monitors are plotting against him

Tension is growing in Belarus ahead of presidential elections due on 9 September.

Belarus' electoral authorities have issued a formal warning to opposition candidate Vladimir Goncharik over his use of campaign materials they found unacceptable, such as unregistered brochures and election posters.

He was also warned that T-shirts worn by his young supporters could result in the cancellation of his candidature.

The shirts are emblazoned with the slogan "Say No to the Idiot!" - the call-sign of a youth group opposed to President Alexander Lukashenko.

The election campaign in Belarus has become bad-tempered in recent days.

There has been little debate about manifestos or policies.

Instead, President Lukashenko and his opponents have been trading increasingly extravagant accusations.

European 'plot'

President Lukashenko said that the head of a European monitoring group in Belarus was deliberately provoking the country's authorities into his expulsion from Belarus, in order to discredit his campaign for a second, seven-year term in office.

He added that the authorities would remove the monitors as soon as the election was over, to avoid what he called a "Yugoslavia scenario" developing in Belarus.

About 300 international monitors are due to arrive in the country to observe the last days of the election campaign and the voting itself.

The country's authorities have already suggested the monitors' real purpose is actually to spy on Belarus (...)

(BBC NEWS - Wednesday, 5 September, 2001)