In a statement televised yesterday, Belarusan president Alyaksandr Lukashenka rejected as "unfounded" and "emotional" his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin’s accusations, voiced the preceding day, regarding the detention of the three-man Belarusan crew of Russia’s Public Television (ORT). Declaring himself willing to provide the explanations demanded by Yeltsin, Lukashenka challenged the Russian president first to explain why Russian television channels have "unleashed an information war against Belarus." The Belarusan president rejected any "interference in Belarusan internal affairs" by the Russian authorities and any "disrespect for Belarus."
Adding a new twist to the affair, Lukashenka charged that ORT’s Minsk bureau chief, Pavel Sheremet, was a paid agent of "secret services" — implying Russian ones — and vowed that the criminal case will be pursued against Sheremet, who is a Belarusan citizen. Lukashenka also renewed accusations that Russia’s first deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais and the "team" of former prime minister Yegor Gaidar are misleading Yeltsin on the subject of Belarus and are sabotaging the implementation of the Russia-Belarus Union. Lukashenka said he continues to hope that all contentious issues can be settled personally between him and Yeltsin.
Also yesterday, Minsk police arrested 13 journalists from among a larger group that was picketing the building of the presidential administration to show solidarity with their ORT colleagues. (Russian agencies, July 31)
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