Lukašenka suffering from mental disorder?
Leading Belarusian independent newspapers, private political sites, along with some Russian media on 12 January received e-mail messages, signed by psychiatrist Dr Dmitry Schigelsky. (See the Web site where the document was published in Belarusian)
Dr Schigelsky diagnosed President Lukašenka's mental condition as "a moderately expressed mental lunatic disease with dominating features of paranoid and brain disorder." This document was also published in Belarus on paper in the Friday issue of Naša Svaboda.
Opposition begins collecting signatures
Opposition leaders Vasil' Šlyn'dzikaw and Hienadz' Hrušavy, who currently work on setting up a civil committee called Election 2001, announced that their group began collecting signatures for the establishment of a broad civil movement in Belarus for a new president.
The main purpose of the movement would be to ensure the victory of the opposition's single candidate in this year's presidential election. They have called on "all those who are not indifferent about our Motherland's destiny" to pool their efforts for attaining the purpose of unseating Lukašenka. They point out that their initiative is based on the realization that the change of the government within the limits of the law is the only way out of the bitter poverty into which Belarus has sunk under Lukašenka's rule.
Tax officials seal up equipment
Tax officials have brought to a halt and sealed up the printing press of the Miensk-based private publishing company Magic, following the Supreme Economic Court's 18 December order that it be seized toward payment of the Belarus-Soros Foundation's fine for alleged tax violations. The Belarus-Soros Foundation (BSF) transferred the equipment back in 1997 to the Open Society Institute, which in turn leased it to Magic.
The tax authorities believe that the BSF handed over the equipment to avoid its seizure for tax arrears. Magic prints Belarus's major private newspapers, including Narodnaja Volia, Rabočy and Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, which are often critical of the government. Many observers believe that the arrest of the equipment is aimed at paralyzing the private press in the run-up to this year's presidential election.
Independent newspaper publishers consider response to Magic's possible closure. Paval Žuk, editor-in-chief of the private newspaper Naša Svaboda, suggested that the newspapers printed at the Magic printing plant should set up a holding company and buy out the printing press, which has been confiscated by the tax authorities.
"The authorities are preparing for the presidential election," Žuk said. "I have trustworthy information that an oral order was given to the State Committee on the Press to suspend the publication of newspapers at all private printing plants." The authorities try to force the independent newspapers out of the country, said Narodnaja Volia chief editor Iosif Siaredzič. Some independent newspapers were printed "in exile" before, he said.
If Magic is closed down, as was the case shortly before the 1996 constitutional referendum, Narodnaja Volia will be printed in Lithuania, he said. It is impossible to find a publisher in Belarus where 90 percent of the printing facilities are monopolized by the government, Siaredzič added. "Even if Belarus's Lithuanian border is closed, we will use bypass roads and use balloons to send Narodnaja Volia to Belarus," he said. "However hard the authorities may try to down the balloons and pick up the newspapers, they will reach the readers," he stressed.
US ambassador not invited to reception
Michael Kozak, US ambassador to Belarus, was not invited to the 13 January reception given by Aliaksandar Lukašenka for foreign diplomats, the foreign ministry's spokesman Paval Latuška told Yu.S.News when asked about Kozak's status.
Questioning why the US ambassador had not been invited to present his credentials to the Belarusian leader, Latuška said, "We do not comment on this matter. I would like to note that we regard the statement, which was published in the newspaper Narodnaja Volia, as unprecedented ... in diplomatic practices."
In that interview, Narodnaja Volia quoted Kozak as saying that the United States cannot recognize the Belarusian National Assembly (Council of the Republic and the House of Representatives) as a legislature representing the entire nation. Ambassador Kozak also said that Belarus' executive branch could not be regarded as legitimate because Lukašenka's five-year presidential term had run out.
The US ambassador's TV interview, which was recorded in the studios of Belarusian National TV (BTV), appeared on the Web only, posted by the US Embassy in Belarus. The ambassador answered BTV's questions on 21 December last year at their request about the results of the 2000 presidential election in the United States and relations between the two countries, but BTV subsequently decided not to broadcast the interview.
In particular, Kozak said that the perception exists in the United States and in Europe that the processes by which the Belarusian Parliament had been selected in October 2000 did not meet basic standards that are applied to all members of the OSCE. "Likewise, the procedures by which the referendum was passed in 1996—the President's term was extended—again didn't match up to those standards."
Kozak said that the United States could not recognize the Belarusian Parliament as being representative of the Belarusian people. "We've got questions about the situation of the executive as well because of that extension," he said referring to the 1996 referendum.
Hančar's whereabouts still unknown
Oleg Naumov, a member of the Union of Right-Wing Forces faction in the Russian State Duma, has informed Belarus's United Civic Party (UCP) that he has failed to learn anything about the whereabouts of Belarusian opposition leader Viktar Hančar, who has been missing since 16 September 1999.
Last year, UCP Deputy Chairman Paval Danejka sent a request for information to the State Duma in view of President Lukašenka's repeated allegations that Hančar was hiding in Russia. Naumov reported that neither the Ministry of Internal Affairs nor the Federal Border Service has information on Hančar's whereabouts. The State Duma member added that Russia's law-enforcement agencies have ordered a federal search for Hančar.
Six months since Zavadzki disappeared
It was six months on 7 January since the disappearance of Z'micier Zavadzki, a Miensk-based cameraman with Russia's public television network ORT. His wife S'viatlana made yet another visit to the Prosecutor General's Office and was told again that there was no information on the whereabouts of her husband, and that the investigation of such a case could last for years.
According to S'viatlana, prosecutors have dropped the charge of murder against the four jailed suspects. Now they reportedly face abduction charges only. "This holds out a hope that they handed over Z'micier to someone else and he is still alive," S'viatlana Zavadzkaja said. She added that she could escape the impression that there was a lack of coordination among the agencies involved in the investigation.
Zavadsky disappeared on 7 July 2000 when he failed to meet his long-time colleague Paval Sharamiet at the local airport in Miensk. Zavadzki's car was later found locked and parked outside the airport building. A search for the journalist by local police failed to turn up any clues.
BelaPAN correspondent interrogated
BelaPAN correspondent Hienadz' Barbaryč was interrogated in connection with his article in Narodnaja Volia about the disappearance of journalist Z'micier Zavadzki. Investigators Uladzimir Čumačenka and Z'micier Pietruškievič of the Prosecutor General's Office accused the journalist of interfering in the official inquiry. Barbaryč's article was based on a letter by an arrested suspect in the murder of Gleb Samoilov, leader of the Belarusian branch of a Russian ultra-rightist organization.
The journalist said that he had collected information for the story from various sources, and that he had no access to evidence gathered by investigators. Barbaryč noted that Belarus's media law allows journalists to conduct their own inquiry. The investigators asked the journalist to sign a pledge not to disclose information relating to the case, but he refused. According to Barbaryč, the investigators in charge of the case appear to work under heavy pressure.
The journalist has appealed to the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) for its assistance in defending his rights. The BHC believes that pressure on the journalist is aimed at preventing the media from covering politically motivated disappearances in Belarus.
Six injured in a juvenile prison riot
Four guards and two inmates were injured when a riot was being put down at Juvenile Correctional Center No 1 in Viciebsk on 6 January, said Z'micier Parton, spokesman for the Belarusian Interior Ministry. The disorder began on 5 January when a group of inmates demanded the release of rule-breakers from the isolation ward, Parton said. According to him, the riot involved 219 youths, or some 45 percent of all inmates. They were reportedly destroying furniture and window frames in a barrack and blocked the entrance.
The spokesman noted that officials from the Interior Ministry's Correctional Administration Committee, the police department of the Viciebsk Regional Executive Committee and the Regional Prosecutor's Office, the prison's chiefs and clergymen had held with the rioters for five hours in an attempt to settle the conflict.
However, Parton said, the rioters displayed no inclination for a peaceful dialogue, therefore police decided to begin an operation to curb the disorder. The operation reportedly involved prison officers of two correctional institutions and the local pretrial detention center, as well as members of the local Special Task Police (OMON) unit.
The interior ministry's spokesman stressed that the main component of the operation had been psychological influence, and that the use of "special-purpose equipment" (apparently tear gas and truncheons) had been limited and arms were not used at all.
Control over the facility was reestablished. BHC has issued a statement condemning poor conditions in Belarus's prisons—of which most are overcrowded—saying that many inmates suffer tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
The BHC stresses that the UN Committee Against Torture, which considered Belarus's third periodical report last year, noted human rights violations and the lack of effective measures to improve conditions in prisons.
And in other news...
- Foreigners have adopted more than 500 Belarusian children since 1994, said Halina Rudziankova, an official of the Belarusian Ministry of Education. Under Belarus's Marriage and Family Code, the Belarusian and foreign parents need a court's approval to adopt a child. Belarusian children can be adopted by parents living in the countries and provinces that have agreements providing for sharing information about the fate of the adopted child, Rudziankova said.
- Belarus has such agreements with Denmark, Ireland, Israel, Italy, and Sweden, a state in Germany and six states in the United States. At present, more than 1500 Belarusian children under the age of 18 live with foreign adoptive parents, 7800 children live with Belarusian adoptive parents and 12,000 children live with foster parents.
- German trade officials visited Miensk to attend the ceremonial opening of the Representation of the German Economy in Belarus. The office has been established in place of the North Rhine-Westphalia Contact Office in Miensk. The latter represented the interests of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Bonn Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 1995. But its scope of activities extended beyond the state interests in the last few years. The German Ministry of Economy and Technologies and the Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry decided in early 2000 to open the Representation of the German Economy in Belarus.
Yuri Svirko, 12 January 2001
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