Lukašenka security men involved in assassinations?
The news agency BelaPAN has received an anonymous e-mail message alleging that Źmicier Zavadzki, a cameraman for Russia's ORT who disappeared in Miensk on 7 July 2000 and Belarusian opposition leader Viktar Hančar were assassinated by active officers of Aliaksandar Lukašenka's security service.
The author claims to be an officer in Belarus's State Security Committee (KGB). The message says that nine suspects, including five active officers of the Belarusian leader's security, have been arrested in the Zavadzki case. They have allegedly confessed to killing the cameraman and have even shown the place where they buried the body.
The same criminals reportedly staged the disappearance in September 1999 of Viktar Hančar. According to the letter, the country's top officials are preventing the investigative team from exhuming Zavadzki's body and completing their search for the truth.
Viktar Marozaw, a departmental chief in the Prosecutor General's Office, dismissed the letter as "untrue on some points" and advised BelaPAN to send it to the authorities investigating the Zavadzki case. According to him, formal charges have been officially brought against some of them, and the investigation continues.
The report from an anonymous KGB officer about Zavadzki is based on true facts, former ORT Miensk correspondent Paval Šaramiet said. "That Zavadsky was killed with a shovel we were told a few days before," Šaramiet said. "We took it as provocation then because there was no proof. We started checking on that report. We were told that nothing had in fact been found, that they would comb the area again, that the Presidential Security Service men arrested on suspicion of murder had given no testimony, because they could be shot for that. Until the body is found, there is hope that Zavadzki is alive, but the hope is faint."
According to Šaramiet, Moscow is closely watching the Zavadzki case. "It was mostly thanks to interference by the FSB (Russia's Federal Security Service) that the suspects were arrested," Šaramiet said. "Russia's Interior Minister Rushailo has been very helpful, too. Lukašenka has been driven into a corner. He will have to give serious answers to serious accusations... Things have gone too far. Moscow is getting irritated and is prepared to see new political leaders emerging in Belarus."
Opposition might boycott elections
As early as January 2001, the Belarusian opposition should nominate a single candidate who will represent all opposition political parties in the upcoming presidential elections, an MP from the 13th Supreme Soviet, Siamion Domaš, said.
Being a politician whose name is on the list of likely candidates for the Belarusian presidency, Domaš did not rule out that the opposition would call to boycott the upcoming elections. In his interview with reporters he stressed that this will happen if "the authorities do not make certain concessions." Among the latter he named "changing the electoral code and the civil legislation, halting political prosecution of the president's opponents, access of opposition to the state-run mass media."
Vadzim Papow elected speaker
The newly elected House of Representatives of the Belarusian National Assembly voted 76 to 17 by secret ballot to appoint Vadzim Papow, the current Minister of Agriculture and Foodstuffs, as chairman of the chamber at its first plenary session held on November 21. Papow's rival Viktar Kučynski, director of the presidential Humanitarian Assistance Department, received 12 votes "for" and 81 votes "against."
Speaking before the vote, Papow stressed that he intends to continue the work started by the first House of Representatives on improving the legislative process, cooperating constructively with the executive branch and contributing to the development of Belarusian-Russian integration. Papow promised to exert every effort to return the Belarusian legislature into European parliamentary organizations. With his election as chairman of the House of Representatives, Papow has to resign as minister.
Lukašenka outlines new chamber's tasks
Lukašenka outlined the new House of Representatives' tasks in his speech at the lower chamber's first plenary session on November 21. The Belarusian leader said that the Lower House should adopt codes of laws concerning minor civil offenses and administrative punishment, the tax code and laws regulating economic relations. "I think representatives of enterprises should work seriously to give a new impetus to the development of legislation concerning enterprises, workers' collectives and their structural elements," Lukašenka said.
The President added that the lower chamber should pass a bill defining the civil servants' status, a bill providing for "expanded functions of Parliament" and a new bill on local government. Lukašenka emphasized the need to introduce legislatively punishment for those officers who "while conducting an investigation, by way of various sorts of manipulations, illegally release [information], especially far-fetched facts, to the press in order to discredit [someone], including the state authorities."
Lukašenka also suggested that the House of Representatives should work to unify Belarusian and Russian legislation. "The harmonization of laws should suit the interests and potentialities of Belarus and Russia, ensure the coordinated development of a single economic space, the movement of labor resources and capital and correspond with the states' needs," the Belarusian leader said.
Europe to back democratic challenger
Europe will back the democratic opposition's single challenger to Lukašenka in next year's presidential election in Belarus, Andrej San'nikaw of the Miensk-based human rights group Charter '97 told reporters in Miensk after visiting Paris, Brussels, London and Berlin together with three other opposition leaders.
"Europe will both support and protect our single candidate," San'nikaw said. "Our candidate's safety was one of the issues that we discussed in the European capitals. Europe will use all diplomatic means, including pressure on Russia." The leaders of the Belarusian opposition have called on the West to influence Russia to prevent it from interfering in the 2001 presidential election in Belarus.
Belarussian opposition leaders met with the EU foreign and security policy chief, Javier Solana, the Council of Europe rapporteur on Belarus, Wolfgang Behrendt, and a former US ambassador to Belarus, Daniel Speckhard, as well as with high-ranking officials and MPs from Britain, Germany and France, and representatives of NGOs and human rights groups.
The meetings focused on Russia's possible role in the election. The Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) leader, Vincuk Viačorka, cited the German foreign ministry state secretary, Christoph Zoppel, as saying that Russia's democratic future and support for the dictatorial regime in Belarus were incompatible. "We urged all those whom we met in Europe to use all their influence and Russia's dependence on them to keep Russia at least neutral, to keep the Russians from saving Lukašenka and from enforcing their candidate," Viačorka said.
According to San'nikaw, the talks also concerned Russian gas giant Gazprom's plan to pipe gas to Europe via Belarus. "We welcome everything that benefits Belarus's economy," San'nikaw said. "However, nobody can have stable interests in Belarus under the existing system. The Europeans agreed with us on that point."
IMF and Belarus work out reform program
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission arrived in Miensk on 21 November for a two-week visit. According to mission leader Marta de Castello-Branco, Deputy European II Department division chief, the IMF will work with the Belarusian government to craft a memorandum outlining a short-term reform program monitored by the Fund's experts. In the best-case scenario the memorandum could be signed at the end of the mission.
Ms Castello-Branco said that price liberalization would be a key issue during the discussions in the following two weeks. She believes that Belarus has made no progress in the area. In a broader sense, discussion will focus on structural reform in Belarus's economy, she said. The IMF welcomed the recent signs of improvement in Belarus's economic policies, which included unifying official exchange rates, liberalizing the foreign exchange market, and maintaining positive real interest rates. "But monetary policy alone cannot do anything without moves in the structural reform," Ms Castello-Branco said.
And in other news...
- As many as 415,500 Belarusians are registered as disabled, Leanid Klimienka, an official of the Ministry of Social Protection, told reporters. The number of the registered disabled persons rose from 306,000 to 426,000 in the first ten years after the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, but has decreased since 1996, Klimienka said.
- Thirty-six percent of the about 1500 Belarusian residents interviewed in October did not like how Lukašenka had ruled over the country in the past six years. They marked off "rather dissatisfied" among the offered options. Twenty-two percent checked "rather satisfied." Forty-one percent were "partly satisfied and partly dissatisfied" with Lukašenka performance in the post of head of state, and one percent found it difficult to express a definite opinion. The Miensk-based Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies conducted the poll. Fifty-one percent of the interviewed blamed the "government" for the deteriorating economic situation in the country, 38 percent Lukašenka, 35 percent the local authorities, and 15 percent blamed the "mafia."
Yuri Svirko, 24 November 2000
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