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Belarus/Russia: Chornobyl Rallies Challenge Authorities

President Lukashenka (in file photo) accused the West of issuing false promises of aid after the Chornobyl disaster By Jan Maksymiuk and Julie Corwin

27 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Riot police dispersed a demonstration in downtown Minsk on 26 April, the 19th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, while Russian protesters in that country accused their government of excessive secrecy over nuclear issues.

Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists in an area contaminated by Chornobyl fallout that his country was forced to cope with the disaster on its own, accusing the West of "helping no one" after the tragedy.

In neighboring Russia, environmentalists protested in a number of cities on 26 April against Russia's state policy of secrecy regarding the disposal of nuclear waste, RFE/RL's Yekaterinburg bureau reported.

Belarusian Unrest

Authorities dispersed hundreds of Belarusian opposition activists and youth-movement activists from Russia and Ukraine protesting in the Belarusian capital, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported.
"The opposition was insisting that the West would help us, but the West helped no one."

The Minsk demonstrators wanted to deliver a petition to the Belarusian presidential administration requesting that the authorities report what they are doing to solve Chornobyl-related problems. It also included a demand that they stop producing food in areas contaminated by radiation.

According to an official report, police arrested five Ukrainians, 14 Russians, and 13 Belarusians during the rally.

Lukashenka Blasts West

Lukashenka told reporters in the Vetka region of Homel Oblast, which was heavily contaminated by fallout from Chornobyl, that Belarus has always confronted post-Chornobyl problems on its own, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported.

"The opposition was insisting that the West would help us, but the West helped no one," Lukashenka said. "We knew that we would not get humanitarian aid, just like Russia and Ukraine."

Lukashenka added that the few individuals from abroad who offered help in health care and other areas were rewarded by the Belarusian government.

"[The West] promised then to give us money once the Chornobyl power plant was shut down," he said. "They have given us nothing so far. We rejected old rags and clothes, we do not need them."

"There is not a single clinic or hospital in Belarus that has not received humanitarian aid from abroad," Henadz Hrushavy, head of the For Children of Chornobyl humanitarian fund, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service. "It is simply dishonest to hurl such invective -- 'we don't need your old rags and clobbers' -- on behalf of the Belarusian people at all those who have helped Belarusians."

Russian Protests

The Russian environmentalists' demonstrations took place in the capital Moscow, Kaliningrad, and Voronezh, among other cities.

Activists from the environmental group Ekozashchita said they submitted inquiries to 14 branches of the Emergency Situations Ministry asking to be acquainted with the ministry's plans for evacuation in the event of nuclear accidents. Ministry officials responded in six of 14 cities by saying such information is classified, the group said.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Lidiya Popova, director of the Center for Nuclear Ecology and Energy Policy, charged that enterprises are largely ignoring a law on defending the population against radiation requires that enterprises that might be susceptible to accidents involving radiation keep local officials informed so they can adequately protect residents.

Popova cited one case in which a scientific institute in Dmitrovgrad in July 1997 accidentally released radioactive ions into the atmosphere over the period of three weeks. Local environmental activists had to pursue three legal cases in order to get precise information about what happened, Popova said, although by law such information should be available. Two years after the accident, statistical information suggests that the population in Dmitrovgrad and its surroundings has experienced a surge in diseases of the thyroid.

[See also "Commemorating The Chornobyl Disaster 19 Years On".]

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