Thursday, 12 May, 2005, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK

Russia fears foreign Belarus plot

Foreign pro-democracy activists are secretly plotting revolution in Belarus, Russia's spy chief has said.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of the FSB security service, said foreign NGOs had been working covertly to help unseat President Alexander Lukashenko.

The US has called Belarus, a close ally of Russia and President Vladimir Putin, "Europe's last dictatorship".

Speaking to Russia's parliament, Mr Patrushev accused US, British, Kuwaiti and Saudi NGOs of spying.

Mr Patrushev, considered an ally of Mr Putin, said that at least $5m (?2.6m) has been funnelled to opposition groups in Belarus for 2005. He did not specify who he suspects of providing the money.

Viktor Vegera, deputy head of the Belarusian security service, the KGB, supported Mr Patrushev's allegations in a TV interview.

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, who was re-elected in 2004 in elections widely criticised by international observers, recently said that foreign efforts to impose democracy or end his alliance with Russia would fail.

Mr Patrushev said that foreign intelligence services were actively working to repeat the success of Ukraine's "Orange Revolution".

Foreign fear

"Our opponents are steadily and persistently trying to weaken Russian influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the international arena as a whole," Mr Patrushev said.

"The latest events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan unambiguously confirm this."

An uprising in Kyrgyzstan in March forced long-serving President Askar Akayev into exile in Moscow.

Earlier this week US President George W Bush spoke to huge crowds in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, praising the peaceful "Rose revolution" that installed Mikhail Saakashvili as president in 2003.

A day earlier, Mr Bush stood alongside Mr Putin in Moscow at ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe in World War II.

"Plans are being drawn up to involve Ukrainian 'orange' officials to carry out a similar revolution in Belarus," Mr Patrushev said in Moscow.

"Foreign secret services are more actively using unconventional methods in their work and are using the teaching programmes of various NGOs to promote their interests."

The FSB chief singled out the US Peace Corps, which pulled out of Russia in 2002 amid spying allegations, British medical group Merlin, the Saudi Red Crescent and a Kuwaiti group called the Society of Social Reforms.