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U.S., Moscow criticize Belarus for opposition crackdown

March 26, 1997
Web posted at: 10:45 a.m. EST (1545 GMT)

MINSK, Belarus (CNN) -- The Belarusian government has come under increasing fire from Washington and Moscow, following a weekend crackdown that has left more than 100 opposition supporters in police custody.

protest

The United States on Tuesday recalled its ambassador from that former Soviet republic for consultations on deteriorating relations between the two countries and said it would announce further steps to protest the expulsion from Belarus of a U.S. diplomat.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin -- rarely critical of its neighbor -- ordered Belarus to loosen its restrictions on Russian journalists.

At least 40 people have received fines or jail sentences for participation in Sunday's opposition protest, said Boris Gyunter, a spokesman for the opposition Belarusian Popular Front. At least 100 others were in police custody, he said. Officials have said 75 people were arrested.

violence

Belarus expelled U.S. embassy first secretary Serzh Alexandrov, of Belarussian origin, for allegedly helping to organize the rally.

In response, the United States, which denied the charges, said Ambassador Kenneth Yalowitz would arrive in Washington on Thursday and report directly to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Belarus authorities also began barring Russian journalists from entering the main television center in Minsk on Sunday and extended the restriction to other international broadcasters Monday. Moscow sharply criticized the move.

"We have the right to expect that the principles of freedom of information will be restored in full and Russian journalists will receive an opportunity to freely perform their duties," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told a news conference.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a former Soviet farm director, has sought to loosely reunite his country's 10 million citizens with Russia, which has about 148 million residents.

Lukashenko and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed last April to form a commonwealth of two states, and a new deal is expected to be signed at a meeting between the two leaders next week marking the anniversary. The agreement is expected to move the two nations toward closer economic union, but it is unclear how far it will go toward a full merger.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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