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Belarus leader fumes over Chernobyl anniversary

by Staff Writers
Minsk (AFP) April 26, 2011
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko Tuesday denounced the head of the EU commission as an "ass" and rounded on Ukraine's president in apparent fury at arrangements for the Chernobyl anniversary.

Lukashenko was notably absent from ceremonies at Chernobyl to mark the 25th anniversary of the nuclear disaster, even though his country was badly affected and his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts visited the power station.

Instead, Lukashenko made his own solo tour Tuesday of farmlands in the Gomel region of southern Belarus worst affected by the disaster.

Asked by Belarussian media why he had not travelled to Ukraine to join Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for the ceremonies at Chernobyl, he replied:

"Ask Yanukovych that question, why the Belarussian president is not present at the events. Ask them! Unfortunately the current Ukrainian leadership has an absolute nerve," he said.

"I don't intend to play the second fiddle."

Ukrainian media said that EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso had asked Kiev not to invite the authoritarian Belarussian leader to a conference in Kiev last week on the consequences of the disaster.

Ukraine complied with the EU demand, hoping he would still show up to the Chernobyl anniversary, but it appeared the Belarussian strongman had taken offence.

Turning on the Portuguese EU commission chief, Lukashenko added: "As for asses like Barroso, well there was once some Barroso in Portugal, they kicked him out and then sorted him out with work in the EU commission."

Lukashenko has been ostracised by the European Union since his December 19 election victory, which Western monitors said was flawed and was also followed by an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition.

He slammed the EU for imposing sanctions against his regime since the election. "They are just morons. For them, we are competitors. We are ideological opponents.

"We are people who lead a different way of life. We are dangerous for them. We do not need their kind of democracy."

He also appeared to take aim at the solemn ceremonies at Chernobyl. "Maybe it's nice to go and lay wreaths but I need to see with my own eyes what needs to be done here."

For all the political conflicts, it is indisputable the Chernobyl disaster wreaked a horrific toll in Belarus.

More than a quarter of Belarus's territory was contaminated by the nuclear disaster and more than 460 villages had to be evacuated in its aftermath.

The damage from the Soviet-era nuclear accident is estimated at $235 billion (160 billion euros), according to Lukashenko's presidential office.

Since its independence in 1991 following the disintegration of the Soviet Union the country has invested more than $19 billion to decontaminate the polluted areas including farmland.

Lukashenko said that Belarus needed help from international organisations to overcome the disaster but, characteristically, said that on principle it was not going to ask for any assistance.

"If they were half decent they would know this tragedy and they would have helped us," he said.

Lukashenko claimed that Western organisations were instead paying a "fifth column" -- his favoured term for the opposition in Belarus, many of whose leaders are still languishing in jail after the election.

"The fifth column do not want our rebirth but our death. But it's not going to come to that."

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Russia, Ukraine leaders mourn Chernobyl nightmare
Chernobyl, Ukraine (AFP) April 26, 2011
The Russian and Ukrainian leaders marked 25 years since the world's worst nuclear disaster Tuesday on a historic visit to Chernobyl, shadowed by new fears over atomic energy safety. Dmitry Medvedev, making the first ever visit by a Russian president to the now defunct Chernobyl Atomic Power Station, and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych paid tribute to the victims of the April 1986 ... read more

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