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Belarus to Close U.S.-Funded NGOs

MINSK -- President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday vowed to shut down nongovernment organizations found receiving U.S. funding, saying Belarussians who take such financing are destroying the country.

Lukashenko also demanded that Washington stop supporting Belarussian opposition parties. He and other top members of his government have been hit with travel and financial sanctions in the European Union and the United States.

Lukashenko did not name any specific nongovernmental organizations, but said they would be closed quickly.

"Those who bring money into Belarus illegally, they are destroying themselves with this money," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush "needs to deal with his own problems -- Iraq, other hot spots the United States has created -- and worry less about those countries where they're trying to support the opposition," he said.

"Bush has significantly more problems then we do. Here's one place where money can be sent: the inflation of the dollar has taken on horrifying sizes," he said.

Earlier this year, a dispute with Russia over cheap energy exports resulted in a showdown that led to Russia sharply hiking oil costs for Belarus, whose Soviet-style command economy is still heavily reliant on cheap Russian supplies.

Lukashenko subsequently sent signals that he sought to ease relations with the West, but the EU and the United States demanded his government release all political prisoners as a condition for talks.

"When the Europeans begin proposing some kind of step-by-step strategy, this embarrasses me," he said.

Belarus is among several former Soviet republics that have targeted nongovernmental organizations after seeing the key role that foreign-funded groups played in uprisings that toppled the governments of Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Months after saying he would not tolerate the use of foreign money in politics, President Vladimir Putin early last year signed a law that required all nongovernmental organizations to reregister with the government under tighter rules and to open their financial books to closer state scrutiny.

(The Moscow Times 16.vii.07)

 
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