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Lukashenka: Gazprom Threat To Cut Off Gas 'Blackmail'

Moscow, 13 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka today said Belarusians will not face natural gas shortages, despite a threat by Russia's Gazprom company to cut off supplies within days.

Lukashenka made the remarks on national television today. He called the Gazprom threat "blackmail." Gazprom has been trying for some time to raise the tariffs, which are heavily subsidized. Gazprom Vice President Aleksandr Ryazanov said in a statement today that negotiations with Belarus authorities have made no progress.

Gazprom has delivered no gas to Belarus since the start of this year, but independent producers Itera and TransNafta have been providing fuel under temporary contracts approved by Gazprom, which controls all export pipelines.

The energy company is also seeking to buy Belarus's pipeline operator, Beltransgaz, which is up for privatization. Lukashenka has criticized Gazprom's offer of 1 billion dollars, saying it is far too low.

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