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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 July, 2004, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Russia protests over Belarus TV closure
Opposition rally in Minsk on 21 July 2004
Minsk disputes the rally turnout

Russia has protested to Belarus about the closure of the Russian state television office in Minsk in retaliation for its coverage of an opposition rally in the Belarusian capital.

A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry, Alexander Yakovenko, said that Russia TV's report on the demonstration did not constitute "serious grounds" for such a step.

The TV's correspondent said that between 2,000 and 5,000 people had taken part in a protest held earlier in the week to mark the 10th anniversary of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's rule. The Belarus interior ministry maintains that fewer than 200 people were involved.

The Russia TV report "flagrantly violated the principles of journalistic ethics as it distorted the number of people who took part in the unauthorised rally", a statement issued by the Belarusian foreign ministry said.

'Acts of provocation'

President Lukashenko himself said he was perturbed that the report - which he said distorted the true state of affairs in Belarus - came from the public broadcasting corporation of a country "which is an ally of Belarus".

"This was done by neither Nato nor the West. This was done by Russians, who are our brothers. They led the way and triggered all these acts of provocation," he said.

The spat over coverage of the rally is only the latest in a series of hiccups in the relationship between Belarus and Russia.

The authorities in Minsk have tried on several occasions over the last year to curb the Russian media's critical coverage of Belarusian politics.

In April, Russia TV broadcasts in Belarus were blacked out at a time when news broadcasts expected to carry reports critical of recent developments were due to be aired. The official explanation was that this was done to allow essential maintenance work to be carried out.

In July 2003, the authorities shut down the Minsk office of another Russian television channel, NTV, because of its criticism of the Belarusian leadership.

Over the last decade, Belarus has sought closer ties with Russia, but despite much talk of union there has been little real progress, and Mr Lukashenko regularly shows signs of resentment that his country is not treated as an equal partner.

And the president seems to find the Russian media's tendency to highlight his treatment of the Belarusian opposition particularly irksome.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

President Lukashenko: in quotes
10 Jul 04  |  Europe
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Country profile: Belarus
15 Feb 04  |  Country profiles

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