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Prague Accuses Minsk of 'Gross' Diplomatic Violation

Czech Foreign Minister Svoboda (file photo) (CTK) 24 February 2006 -- A war of words has erupted between Belarus and the Czech Republic, with Prague accusing Minsk of "grossly violating" international diplomatic conventions.

The exchange began after undercover Belarusian police stopped a Czech embassy car on 22 February in Minsk. The car was on its way to the German embassy, to deliver copies of a UN report detailing human rights abuses in Belarus. The Czech car's Belarusian driver was threatened with prison for "subversive" activity.

Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda says the Belarusian authorities -- under international law -- had no right to pull over the embassy car, much less to threaten its driver.

In an interview published on 24 February in the Czech newspaper "Mlada Fronta Dnes," Svoboda says Prague views the incident as "very serious."

Svoboda says Czech diplomats will continue to distribute the UN report and he called on other EU states to do the same.

(CTK, Mlada fronta Dnes)

The Media In Belarus

The Media In Belarus

'A CENTRAL-ASIAN LEVEL OF PRESS FREEDOM': The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls the current conditions for journalists in Belarus "frightening."

CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator ALEX LUPIS, who had just returned from a trip to Belarus, told an RFE/RL briefing on 15 February that he found conditions that make it almost impossible for journalists to report independently on the campaign leading to the country's 19 March presidential election.

Lupis said the Belarusian government is "criminalizing" independent journalism, and forcing journalists to leave the country, change professions or join the state-controlled media. There is a "Cold War atmosphere" in Belarus, Lupis said, adding that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka makes up the rules of the game. The Internet, he said, is the "last free outlet" where independent journalists can publish, but Russia and Belarus are updating their media laws in order to restrict Internet usage. Numerous journalists with whom Lupis spoke said that they miss the support they used to receive from nongovernmental organizations such as IREX and Internews, which were once active in Belarus.

Lupis believes that the government in Belarus bans independent journalism because it fundamentally "mistrusts its own people."

Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media

See these RFE/RL stories on the media in Belarus:

Independent Newspaper Struggles Against State Interference

EU-Funded Media Broadcasts To Start Before March Elections

Authorities 'Cleanse' Media Ahead Of 2006 Vote

Click on the image to view a dedicated page with news, analysis, and background information about the Belarusian presidential ballot.

Click on the image to view RFE/RL's coverage of the election campaign in Belarusian and to listen to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.