Belarus leader denounces West

By Ron Popeski

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday defiantly told his Western critics to stay out of his country's affairs, while an opposition rival for the presidency was beaten by security forces and detained.

Lukashenko, who faces tougher Western sanctions if a March 19 election which he is heavily favored to win is denounced as unfair, vowed to take whatever steps were necessary to prevent Western-inspired subversion of his administration.

"It is not for (the West) to teach us about human rights. Let them deal with their own affairs. They have plunged the entire Middle East into blood. We see your democracy soaked in blood," he declared in a speech of more than three hours.

Speaking a day after the state security service, called the KGB, said it had thwarted an attempt to seize power, Lukashenko told 2,500 delegates at the "Belarussian National Congress" that opposition activists should be drafted into the army.

"And if they don't go, let them answer to the law. They all dodged military service in their time," he said.

Earlier, academic Alexander Kozulin, 50, was attempting to register for a mass gathering to be addressed by the president when plainclothes police knocked him to the ground, took him out of a hall in central Minsk and drove him away.

Officers tried to stop journalists from filming the incident and scuffles broke out. A Reuters television correspondent was beaten and injured.


U.S. President George W. Bush's national security adviser denounced the beating and told reporters covering Bush's trip to said the world needed to show more outrage about Belarus.

"Obviously there's an election coming up. We would like it to be free and fair. And a prerequisite of free and fair elections is that you don't beat up opposition candidates or opposition supporters and throw them in jail," Stephen Hadley said.

Hadley said: "There's not enough outrage and international attention on Belarus generally and the run-up to this election in particular."

Poland, which openly backs opposition candidates, said it would urge the European Union to impose economic sanctions on Belarus if Lukashenko used force against the opposition, a government source said.

"If elections will not be conducted properly and Lukashenko will use force against demonstrators, we will try to convince the EU countries to impose tough economic sanctions on this country," a senior government source told Reuters in Warsaw.

A second candidate representing Belarus's small liberal and nationalist opposition planned an evening street rally without securing official permission and vowed to take "appropriate measures" if authorities resorted to force.

Lukashenko said Belarus under his stewardship had shunned "destructive privatization and shock therapy" and developed into a "stable, prosperous, civilized country".

He remains popular, particularly in the provinces, where he is widely seen as a guarantor against the instability of other ex-Soviet states.

Kozulin's attempt to attend the gathering was criticized by Lukashenko's allies as a stunt intended to cause trouble.

A spokeswoman for Kozulin, former rector of the Belarussian State University, said he was being held in a Minsk police station. "He has been beaten up quite badly. We don't know what his status is at the moment," Nina Shidlovskaya said.

Dozens of Kozulin supporters later gathered outside the police station to demand his release. Police bundled about 20 into a bus and took them away. Several journalists, including a Reuters photographer, were briefly forced inside the station.

The main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, issued a statement denouncing the police action, saying the elections had now degenerated into a "farce".

"The authorities are panicked and afraid of democratic elections," he said. "They clearly understand that they are unable to win a democratic contest and are therefore resorting to breaking the law and repression of their opponents."