On eve of polls, Lukashenko exposes Georgian 'subversives'

Pressure mounts in Minsk as "Europe's Last Dictator" cracks down on opposition and tries to limit foreign interference

By Keti Sikharulidze

Georgian MPs Giga Bokeria and Givi Targamade, who are members of the Georgian election observer mission, did not leave for Minsk as scheduled on Thursday to observe Sunday's presidential election there as the government of Belarus refused to issue them with observer credentials.

Bokeria was also unable to attain accreditation as a CIS observer.

Bokeria believes that there is one reason behind the exclusion of the Georgians from the list of officially accredited observers: the Belarus authority is afraid of a Rose Revolution repeat in Minsk.

"Our exclusion can be explained by a general fear of the Georgian experience. This time they have identified us as threats and have formally denied us entry into the country," said Bokeria on Thursday.

But the other eight members of the Georgian delegation, including National Movement activists Bidzina Bregadze and David Kirkitdze left for Minsk with OSCE status early on Thursday anyway.

The Georgian side expects that the delegation will have problems soon after arriving in the capital as the Lukashenko government has already expressed aggression against Georgian observers through local TV stations.

"We are leaving for Belarus under the aegis of the OSCE, and I think Belarus will have enough sense to let the international mission observe the election there," said Kirkitadze before leaving for Minsk on Thursday.

"I cannot say beforehand what the government of Belarus will do but I want to say that we will be able to overcome any problems and we are not afraid, said Bregadze.

Meanwhile Belarus President Aleksandre Lukashenko warned Georgian citizens and also the opposition in Belarus that they could not destabilize the situation in the country.

"Those Georgian citizens that are trying to establish 'order' in Belarus will not achieve their goals," said Lukashenko in the city of Gomel in a pre-election speech on Wednesday.

Lukashenko also accused Georgians and Ukrainians of planning to take part in anti-government demonstrations. "There are lots of desperate people in Georgia and Ukraine who can manage enter Belarus, but the question is how they will leave the country :We will not let anyone destabilize the situation here," Lukashenko said in televised comments on Wednesday, claiming that activists from abroad "with American money" planned to interfere with the election. "We are in charge in our land."

Later the Georgian side responded to Lukashekno's statement.

"I do not think the Lukashenko government would assault the Georgian delegation physically. They will just try to suppress them and not let them do their job. But our delegation is ready for everything, and they have displayed a lot of devotion and commitment," said David Bakradze, the chair of the parliamentary judicial committee on Thursday.

Later on Thursday the chairman of the Belarus Security Department Stephan Sukchenko made a statement that destructive forces sponsored from abroad were planning to topple the country's current leadership by force. "We are not speaking about peaceful manifestations, but using explosives:suspicious people arrive here as tourists and take up residence in conspiratorial flats they rent," the security chief claimed.

He added that his security service had discovered ballots dated the 19th of March and during a press conference in Minsk on Thursday they showed a video of an interview with a man who claimed to be he involved in the plot. The man said he had been at a camp in Georgia where "four Arabs and officers of the former Soviet army" provided training.

The alleged plotter also claimed that a colonel from the Georgian security services as well as American instructors had conducted examinations, and that the Americans had told them to bomb four polling stations at schools in Minsk during Sunday's vote.

Meanwhile as the election draws near the situation in Belarus is becoming tenser. The country's government has already deported eight foreign observers and members of the Ukrainian station TV 5 were prevented from entering the country.

Moreover, according to the Associated Press, the Belarus police recently arrested Anatoly Lebedko, a top official in the campaign of Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate, was detained outside his office and accused of resisting police and swearing. Lebedko has been especially undesirable for the Lukashenko regime since he visited Georgia and met with Rose Revolution leaders last year during President Bush's visit.

State-run television reported that authorities halted a truck near the border containing USD 200,000 worth of American aid, including tents it suggested were meant for protesters like those who camped out in the Ukrainian capital during the Orange Revolution, AP reports.

In parallel the Belarus Interior Ministry mobilized additional number of Special Units to avoid unrest in the country and during the election there will be no less then two-three policemen at each polling place.

President Lukashenko, who has been described by the United States as "Europe's last dictator," was first elected in 1994. Lukashenko's original four-year term of office ran out in July 1999, but had been extended till 2001 by the 1996 referendum. He was elected for a second term in 2001.