Belarus says Germany, Poland tried coup

By YURAS KARMANAU, Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus - The newspaper of Belarus' presidential administration on Friday accused Poland and Germany of trying to overthrow the authoritarian leader. Both countries denied the claim.

The accusation in Sovietskaya Belarus, the official organ of President Alexander Lukashenko's administration, comes less than a month after Dec. 19 protests over an allegedly fraudulent presidential election were harshly dispersed by police, who beat and detained hundreds of demonstrators, including seven men who ran against Lukashenko.

The newspaper published what it said were extracts of intercepted conversations and seized documents that purportedly prove the demonstrators were supported by Polish and German special services.

The authenticity of the excerpts could not immediately be confirmed and there appeared to be no direct evidence in the excerpts showing the involvement of foreign security services.

Nonetheless, "there can be no doubts that the hands of first of all the Polish and German special services were on the events of Dec. 19," the newspaper said. "The training ground for organizing the formation of forces capable of changing the legal power in Belarus was Poland."

"Special training camps were constructed there for 'activists', the future ruling class was prepared there," it continued.

Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki called the claims "dramatic propaganda attempts touching on the absurd," according to a report by the Polish news agency PAP.

"Talk about a conspiracy is absurd," Bosacki said from Madrid, where he accompanied Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski on an official visit. "How could there be a conspiracy if Minister Radek Sikorski met with all the candidates for the presidency of Belarus?"

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke added that, "Those allegations are completely absurd and totally unfounded."

Four of the arrested candidates remain in jail in Belarus and supporters say some were seriously injured.

Concern is especially high for Vladimir Neklyayev, who was severely beaten and later spirited away from a hospital by plainclothes police. On Friday, police raided his apartment looking for documents, his wife Olga told The Associated Press.

Authorities meanwhile are threatening to take custody of the 3-year-old son of candidate Andrei Sannikov, who also was beaten and jailed along with his wife.

Poland and Germany were the most visible countries in the West's push for Lukashenko to ease his longtime repression of opponents. The countries' foreign ministers this fall promised Belarus euro3 billion in aid from the European Union if the presidential elections were judged to be free and fair.

Lukashenko, embroiled in disputes with traditional backer Russia over rising prices for oil and gas imports, had appeared possibly receptive to the offer. The election campaign was unusually open by Belarusian standards and featured an unprecedented nine challengers to the man who has ruled since 1994.

But shortly before the election, Russia made concessions on oil exports equivalent in value to the EU-promised aid.

The vote count, in which Lukashenko was credited with nearly 80 percent, was widely regarded as fraudulent and criticized by observers from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. Soon thereafter, Belarus ordered the OSCE's mission in the country to close.

"Lukashenko is once again creating the image of the West as the enemy. ... Lukashenko is scared and therefore accusing the West of conspiracy," said independent political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.

Lukashenko, a former collective farm director, has ruled Belarus as a quasi-Soviet state, with most of the economy still under state control and consistent pressure on opposition activists and the country's few independent news publications.

Moscow is eager to keep Belarus in its sphere of influence, making it a buffer between Russia and NATO's northeastern flank. ___

Associated Press writers Jim Heintz in Moscow, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw and Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.


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