Lukašenka speaks out on Borodin's arrest
"This is an extremely unfriendly step on the part of the United States regarding Belarus and Russia," said Aliaksandar Lukašenka commenting on the detention in New York of Pavel Borodin, state secretary of the Belarusian-Russian union. Borodin was arrested upon arrival at the John F Kennedy airport the previous day under a warrant issued by Swiss authorities. In the United States, he planned to attend the 20 January inauguration of President-elect George W Bush.
Speaking at a government conference, the Belarusian leader told state leaders that they should "work out a line of behavior as this concerns Belarus as a member of the Union of Belarus and Russia."
Lukašenka, who said he gave official permission for Borodin's departure, stated: "This issue was discussed at meetings with the leadership of the Russian Federation on 16 January, and, as for his business trip, we talked about the matter in detail with Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov, and we regarded that [invitation] as a very good gesture on the part of the United States."
Lukašenka showed those present a copy of the invitation addressed to Borodin, which was reportedly signed by a member of the inauguration committee. "In this regard I do not touch on the wrongdoings that Borodin may have done. This does not concern me. I am absolutely incompetent here. I am just talking about the diplomatic scandal that has broken out today and the cause of which is the United States. Because Borodin had a diplomatic passport and therefore had diplomatic immunity."
Independent paper charged with "libel against president"
Belarus, Prosecutor General has charged the Miensk-based independent newspaper Naša Svaboda with "libel against the president" for publishing medical findings that diagnosed Belarus Chief of State Aliaksandar Lukašenka with psychopathy.
The Prosecutor General and the Committee for State Security (KGB) have set up a team to investigate the case, the Prosecutor General's Office has announced. Under Belarus' Criminal Code, the charge entails a fine, up to two years of correctional labor, or up to four years in jail.
Psychiatrist Z'micier Ščyhiel'ski, the author of the findings, is currently staying in the United States. Naša Svaboda's editor-in-chief, Paval Žuk, told BelaPAN he had been prepared for such a turn of events. "If the case goes to court, we will demand a commission of independent experts to examine Aliaksandar Lukašenka," Žuk said.
Zavadzki case remains unsolved
No one has been officially charged in connection with the abduction of journalist Z'micier Zavadzki, Belarusian Interior Minister Uladzimier Navumaw said. The minister refused to disclose any details of the investigation into the disappearance of Zavadzki and prominent opposition leaders Viktar Hančar and Jury Zaxaranka.
"The Z'micier Zavadzki case is a serious trial for Belarus' law enforcement agencies and the progress that we have made ... we will keep the investigation secret in order not to influence it in a way," Navumaw said. According to Navumaw, police are undertaking an all-out effort to solve the case and any evidence uncovered will be made public.
Navumaw criticized reporters for their handling of the case. Navumaw noted that the state's discontent with slow progress in the investigation of the much-talked-of cases.
The Prosecutor General's Office and the police do not want public attention focused on the disappearances of certain persons, Navumaw said. About 5000 people went missing last year and 800 of them have not been found yet, he said.
Interior Ministry employees disciplined
About 10,000 interior ministry employees, or ten percent of the total personnel, were punished for wrongdoings last year, Belarusian Interior Minister Uladzimier Navumaw told reporters. "There were many cases in which employees' actions were incompatible with their role in our country. I have taken a tough line in response," Navumaw said. "I have warned that each commander bears personal responsibility for the actions of his or her subordinates."
Most of the 5433 employees in question were reprimanded or demoted to lower ranks. Criminal proceedings were reportedly instituted in 116 cases and 90 people were convicted. Most of the officers were punished for acting in excess of their powers, taking bribes, or causing automobile accidents.
When questioned by Yu.S.News, Navumaw said that no police officers faced criminal prosecution in connection with mass arrests of journalists on 25 March 2000, when an opposition-organized demonstration was suppressed in Miensk, although ten officers were disciplined. On behalf of his ministry, Naumov apologized to the journalists for the arrests, adding that it will probably not happen again.
Journalist accused of "hooliganism"
Miensk police have charged journalist and human rights activist Valiery Ščukin of "hooliganism" for his attempt to force his way into Interior Minister Uladzimier Navumaw's news conference.
Ščukin is a correspondent for the Miensk-based newspaper Narodnaja Volia. He was told over the phone that it was too late to get accredited for the news conference. Despite this, he came anyway but guards at the door refused to let him inside. In the fight that followed, Ščukin broke a glass door, inflicting himself with serious cuts. An ambulance took the journalist to a hospital with serious loss of blood.
Later in the day, police came to the hospital, told Ščukin about the charges, posted guards to watch him but soon called them off. If convicted, Ščukin may face a fine or spend up to two years in prison under Belarus' new Criminal Code.
On 31 January, Ščukin and Belarusian Social Democratic Party leader Mikola Statkievič are expected to be retried in the Miensk City Court for their participation in the opposition-organized Freedom March demonstration on 17 October 1999. The same court earlier gave suspended jail sentences to both, but the Supreme Court has vacated these sentences.
The Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB) has dismissed the warning from the Justice Ministry that it would be against the FTUB's own regulations to nominate its leader, Uladzimier Hančaryk for president. The ministry also cautioned that even a discussion about the issue at the Federation's upcoming conference would be in violation of both the FTUB's aims and purposes, and Belarus' Electoral Code, and might entail the dissolution of the Federation.
The FTUB notes that the Belarusian Constitution and International Labor Organization documents allow trade unions to realize their economic and social goals by political means.
Meanwhile, representatives of nearly 30 provincial non-governmental organizations adopted a statement in support of Siamion Domaš, the former governor of the Harodnia region, as the United Opposition's single presidential candidate.
Domaš "has proved his adherence to democratic principles and his ability to ensure in deed, not in word, freedom and prosperity for the Belarusian people," the statement said. "We know that the overwhelming majority of the Belarusian citizens want changes, and that, being together, we are able to carry out them. We call on all those who no longer intend to live in a state of humiliation to join us and support our choice."
Other possible candidates include former Prime Minister Mixal Čyhir and Uladzimier Hančaryk, chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus.
And in other news...
- Ex-Prime Minister Mixal Čyhir once again faces criminal charges; this time it is tax evasion while running the Moscow office of a German concern, Leanid Hluxowski, chief of Belarus' Investigative Committee, told Yu.S.News. Exactly how much Čyhir was supposed to pay Hluxowski refused say, but stated, "Not much, but it depends on who pays. For me it is quite a lot."
- Police in Miensk have arrested six people suspected of killing and cannibalizing a man. The suspects have been charged with premeditated murder. The City Prosecutor's Office says that the six suspects killed the man, who has not been identified, with a knife and a crowbar and butchered him after a booze-up at an apartment in Miensk on 28 December. The suspects allegedly ate his meat for several days and dumped the remains into a canal. Most of the suspects were unemployed. The Prosecutor's office characterizes the suspects as an "anti-social contingent."
- It could take Belarus another 15 to 20 years to remove all World War II explosives from its soil, said Colonel Uladzimier Škarubski, Chief of Staff for Belarus' Engineer Troops. According to him, the cost of de-mining is about USD 1000 per hectare.
- The city government of Mahiliow and the management of the state-run Mahiliow Automobile Factory are taking steps to punish some of the factory workers-nearly 200-who blocked a highway on 28 December, demanding their wages for November. Factory managers used police video footage to incriminate the workers who participated in the protest.
- Neither Mixal Xvastow, vice-premier and foreign minister, nor any other representative from the Belarusian government attended the reception given by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus (AMG) on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The absence of Belarus' government officials is significant in view of the accusations of interference in internal affairs that have been brought against the OSCE AMG lately. Xvastow was in Moscow, accompanying Belarus' head of state.
- The Union State of Belarus and Russia "will have a parliament and a constitution within two to three years," Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin said on 16 January, before his arrest. The year 2000 made a difference in terms of building the Union State, Borodin said. He referred to the establishment of the Belarusian-Russian Supreme State Council and the Union State Council of Ministers. Lidzija Jarmošyna, chairwoman of Belarus' central electoral commission, said previously that the Union State's Parliament would be elected in March 2002 at the earliest. She linked the delay to this year's upcoming presidential election in Belarus.
Yuri Svirko, 19 January 2001
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