Belarus Accuses Germany, Poland of Overthrow Bid


MOSCOW-Belarus accused Germany and Poland of trying to overthrow its authoritarian president by organizing a large street protest against his disputed re-election last month, an event that set off a sweeping crackdown against the former Soviet republic's democratic opposition.

The allegation Friday, denied by both countries, came two days after European Union officials rebuffed a diplomatic effort by Belarus to allay concerns about the crackdown and head off a renewal of EU sanctions against the country's top officials.

In the weeks since the Dec. 19 election and protest, Belarussian security police have been raiding homes and offices of people linked to the opposition, interrogating them for hours, and seizing computers and files, human-rights groups say. A popular radio station that gave air time to opposition candidates has been shut down.

More than 600 people, including seven of the nine opposition candidates, were arrested on election night as riot police dispersed nearly 20,000 demonstrators in central Minsk.

President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner, with nearly 80% of the vote, in a count that international observers said was rigged.

At least 30 opposition figures remain in jail, including four of the candidates and a prominent journalist married to one of them. In a tactic reminiscent of Soviet-era repression, the government has warned that it could take custody of the couple's 3-year-old son if his grandmother is deemed unfit to raise him. Defense lawyers say they have almost no access to the prisoners.

The U.S. and EU have condemned the crackdown. After meeting in Brussels with Belarussian Foreign Minister Sergei Martyonov, the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, warned Wednesday of "appropriate measures" if Belarus failed to release the opposition figures.

Mr. Lukashenko struck back Friday with a broadside that covered five pages in Sovietskaya Belarus, the official organ of his presidential administration. The newspaper published what it said were excerpts of intercepted conversations and seized documents that purportedly show the election-night protest was directed by Polish and German special services.

Spokesmen for both countries' foreign ministries said the excerpts contained no direct evidence to support it. The Polish spokesman called the accusations "dramatic propaganda attempts touching on the absurd," the Polish news agency PAP reported.

The newspaper said Belarussian activists prepared for the protest at "special training camps" in Poland, with the aim of sowing disorder and installing "an obedient puppet" in Mr. Lukashenko's place. "Hundreds of thousands of dollars were carried to Minsk in suitcases" to achieve this aim, the unsigned article said.

Two opposition candidates, Vladimir Neklyayev and Andrei Sannikov, were singled out in the article as "revolutionaries." Both remain in police custody. Mr. Neklyayev was severely beaten on election night and spirited away from a hospital by plainclothes police.

Mr. Sannikov was also beaten and jailed along with his wife, Irina Khalip, an international award-winning journalist who writes for a Russian newspaper. A government welfare official says the couple's son, Danil, might be sent to a state orphanage, a threat that Ms. Khalip's mother, Lyustina, says is meant to put psychological pressure on the boy's parents.

Security agents, still known in Belarus by the Soviet-era acronym KGB, have made six searches of the family's two apartments since the couple's arrest, relatives said.

Mr. Lukashenko has kept a tight lid on dissent during his 16 years in power. A similar wave of arrests following his disputed 2006 re-election prompted the U.S. and EU to impose sanctions on Belarus. Those measures, including travel restrictions on senior Belarussian officials, were partially relaxed in 2008 to encourage democratic reforms. Poland and Germany led the EU effort to cultivate a more pragmatic relationship with Mr. Lukashenko. Poland's foreign minister said before last month's election that Belarus could receive $3.5 billion in European aid if monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe judged the vote free and fair.

That expectation vanished in the wake of Belarus's turbulent election night. Mr. Lukashenko declared that Belarus needed "no more hare-brained democracy." Several days later, his government ordered the OSCE mission to leave.


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