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Lukashenko laughs off murder claims

Death squads? We Europeans are too civilised, says Lukashenko  

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stands accused of rigging his country's presidential election -- and even kidnapping and murdering political opponents. Just before the poll, CNN's Ryan Chilcote put these allegations to him an an exclusive interview.

Chilcote: Thank you for being with us Mr. President. Youíre well ahead in the polls, any doubts in your minds youíll win this election?

Lukashenko: Any normal man should have doubts even if heís totally confident, but the opinion polls of course speak for themselves. Even the American polls put my approval rating at 57 percent and those donít differ all that much from the Russian polls that gave me percent or our own Belarus polls at 62 percent.

With ratings like that, thereís obviously great likelihood that Iíll win, but you never know.

Chilcote: There has been a lot of criticism of how these elections are being conducted. How can you assure the world community these elections will be fair and honest?

Lukashenko: Theyíre always talking about honest and fair elections. That can be interpreted differently. I always tell our American and European colleagues to name a country -- be it Russia, Ukraine or Poland -- that could serve as a model for elections here.

We could for example run elections like theyíre run in Russia. The United States recognised the Russian elections, why not run elections like theyíre run there? They just smile, and say "no, no, no."

All right, then weíre going to conduct them in accordance with our legislation.

I can guarantee you that they will be conducted in accordance with international standards and our legislation. And with a 65 percent approval rating, do you think Iím interested in creating problems for myself, do you think Iím going to conduct the elections in a such a fashion that the world doesnít recognise the elections, for their results to be crossed out?

I donít have any need in pushing the appropriate people into falsifying the vote.

Secondly, our society today is very civilised, very educated, and the election officials are very sophisticated. You think I can push them into (falsification) and get a good result? Itíll be just the other way around like it was when I was the underdog candidate and won in the last presidential elections.

The government used so much pressure, coercion, gunfire and what did they accomplish, nothing. So, I drew the appropriate conclusions from that. Many Western observers here are saying things are so quiet, theyíre never this quiet. Thatís because Iím doing everything I can to make sure these elections are carried out calmly, and our people could calmly vote.

Chilcote: There are allegations that you and your government behind the use of death squads. The U.S. State Department calls those allegations credible. Are you or anyone in your government behind the disappearances of your political opponents?

Lukashenko: Thatís a good question for the State Department. The State Department should tell the media what facts they have to call those allegations them credible. Iíve already answered those charges and more than that: I dispatched the Interior Minister with a group of 16 journalists to check on the most recent allegations that the U.S. State Department and our opposition have announced.

The allegations were complete disaster. That kind of stuff wonít fly here anymore. People here were convinced that those allegations are totally false. But let me repeat that if they have any facts, they should share them with the world.

Chilcote: Just to be clear, you never asked anyone to kidnap or kill anyone?

Lukashenko: (Laughs). You think the president can order someone to kill or kidnap someone? Europeans, it seems to me, are supposed to be pretty civilised when it comes to that.

Thatís a completely impossible thing for a European to do and I consider myself a European. And keep in mind that the people that disappeared were never my political opponents -- they were completely bankrupted members of the opposition.

I would have better protected them in order to run against them in this election because theyíre no competitors. And you know that. Take Gonchar for example -- he was a completely politically bankrupted in 1999 when they wanted to elect Chickiyar.

He stole so much money from the opposition that even the opposition started hating him, I knew that.

The people who disappeared were never dangerous to me in a political sense. Take anyone of those three that all of the sudden disappeared. I have different information, weíll check it, and then I think weíll have some interesting things to share.

Chilcote: How then do you explain these mysterious disappearances?

Lukashenko: I canít explain the disappearances because thereís a criminal investigation underway and I canít influence that criminal investigation. If the head of state starts speculation, then the investigation can take a turn in the wrong direction. Iím very careful not to get into the facts.

But I consider these allegations to be dirt and lies. These people are just looking to play a card in politics, you have to agree that if they really sincerely wanted to help the investigation they would not be acting this way. OK, so you donít want to help the investigation, go ahead and interfere in the investigation. So, today I canít tell you any versions. But I can tell you this is an average political provocation.

Chilcote: Describe the political opposition in Belarus.

Lukashenko: The political opposition is too far from the people -- thatís one. Two, theyíre all has-beens. They already had their hand at running the state: the communists, the Kolyakintzi, and Kozlovsky -- who ran the army, the same with Chikir who was the prime minister, and Goncharik who the second secretary in the Communist party apparatus, and then ran the labour unions under the communistsí control. Shishkevich who, once upon a time, headed our state.

Three, they all want to destroy Lukashenko, settle their scores with him, get rid of him, punish him, hang him, and kill him. You canít use those kinds of slogans in an election. Thatís what characterises our opposition. I mean it when I say that having an opposition is the sign of a normal civilised society, but the opposition must obey the law, and must be patriotic.

No Conservatives or Liberals in for example the United Kingdom would say something against the English. Never in their life. And ours -- they are campaigning against our own people.

Our opposition should study opposition parties in the West, learn to be a civilized, and patriotic opposition. Only then do they earn the right to live in this state, to fight for office, and have a future in this society.

You doubt that the opposition that the West is supporting the opposition. I know they are, I have document evidence. And even the American citizens who live in Belarus confirm that.

Chilcote: How do you explain the Westís interest in Belarus politics?

Lukachenko: They donít like the course that the president of Belarus has taken here, a truly independent course aimed at our sovereignty. They donít like the fact that weíre such close allies with Russia. They donít like the fact that we didnít agree to join the belt of isolation that was mean to separate Russia from Europe. Weíre in the middle of fight between giants, sitting in the middle, a fight between Russia and the West and the United States.

Thatís what happened because of our position, but we canít betray the Russians. Theyíre our brothers, how can we betray them. The Americans should be able to understand that, and the Europeans all the more so.

I understand reform to mean the perfection of what previous generations have already done, Iím not an advocate of destroying, 'kroshatí, and then selling like they do in Russia. Thatís how we can prevent the wild corruption in our state like they have in the other post-Soviet states. Iím an advocate of evolutionary, not revolutionary changes. People call me an anti-reformer, thatís absolutely stupid.

Belarus 'no Yugoslavia'

It all depends on Russia. We could be in the closest relations with Russia, but weíll never lose our sovereignty or independence. We want equal rights in the union. It doesnít matter that Russia is a gigantic country and Belarus is a little smaller.

Luxembourg and Germany are different states but theyíre both in the European Union. They found their niche, and have a completely equal partnership. If Russia and its leadership is ready for union based on equal rights with us, we wonít hesitate but not to the detriment of Europe.

Weíre ready to co-operate with Europe as a unit with Russia, or separate from Russia in all aspects and weíre ready to work together with the United States, as a unit with Russia and without from Russia. Weíre an independent and sovereign state and weíre going to carry out our foreign policy as we see fit. The ballís in the United Statesí court.

But the United States shouldnít block itself in a corner, in a dead end. They should take a look at how things are developing here, take a look at the will of our people and take that into consideration.

The same thing as what was done in Yugoslavia. A violent overthrowing of the government without regard for the results of the election. Weíve never denied the possibility of Yugoslav variant here. We know that West is planning a Yugoslav scenario, but perhaps the West has understood that itís not realistic here.

Belarus isnít Yugoslavia and the situation here isnít one like in Yugoslavia. Despite all of the aggressive tendencies of our oppositions, I donít think thatíll happen here. The elections will be calm, and in a civilized fashion and youíll learn who became president of our country on the 10th.

• Lukashenko claims parliamentary poll win
October 16, 2000
• Belarus poll falsified, say monitors
September 10, 2001
• Observers ban for Belarus poll
September 9, 2001
• Shadow over Belarus poll
September 7, 2001

• Belarus National Assembly

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