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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 August, 2004, 03:36 GMT 04:36 UK
Minister set to defy Olympic ban
Olympic flags near the main Olympic Stadium in Athens
Sivakov says he will be in Athens on 13 August
The Belarus sports minister insists he will attend the Athens Olympics despite a Greek visa ban.

The European Union requested Greece bar Yuri Sivakov because of alleged links to the disappearance of four opposition figures when he was interior minister.

His spokesman said that Mr Sivakov already had accreditation and did not require a visa to attend the Games.

The Belarus foreign ministry called for the ban to be lifted, saying it "contravened the Olympic spirit".

"We view this as another provocation," foreign ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin told Interfax news agency.

"Any attempts to blow this issue out of proportion are counterproductive and run counter to the norms of the Olympic movement."

Mr Sivakov's spokesman insisted he would not be changing his plans.

"Yuri Sivakov is going to the Olympics in Greece as a member of that team and in this case a visa plays no role. Only accreditation is necessary and he has this," said Anatoly Artemyev.

Four missing

On Friday, Greece's deputy government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros told reporters Mr Sivakov would not be allowed to attend the Athens games, which start on 13 August.

It followed a statement from the Dutch presidency of the EU which said it had "learned with concern" that Mr Sivakov was due to lead the national team to the games.

"Mr Sivakov is one of the key figures identified in the report of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on disappeared persons in Belarus," it said.

Mr Sivakov was interior minister in 1999 and 2000, when four men - including a former interior minister, a former vice-president of the parliament, a businessman and a television cameraman - disappeared.

"Against this background, the European Union considers the presence of Mr Sivakov at the upcoming Olympic Games in Athens to be completely inappropriate," the statement added.

The BBC's David Chazan
"The allegations which tarnished the image of the IOC are now to be investigated"

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