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U.S. Calls On Lukashenka To Retract Anti-Semitic Remarks

October 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has criticized Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for recent anti-Semitic comments he made during a live radio broadcast.

Speaking to Russian journalists on October 12, Lukashenka said that the southeastern town of Babruysk, once a thriving Jewish center, was "scary to enter" and further described it as a "pigsty."

"That was mainly a Jewish town -- and you know how Jews treat the place where they are living," he said. "Look at Israel, I've been [there]. I really don't want to offend anyone -- but they don't care much about, say, grass being cut, like in Moscow."

Lukashenka also called on Jews "with money" to return to Babruysk.

A press spokesperson at U.S. Embassy in Minsk confirmed in a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Belarus Service on October 23 that the United States has asked Lukashenka to retract his remarks.

"The United States has informed the Belarusian authorities that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's anti-Semitic statements made during an October 12 press conference were deeply insulting," the spokesperson said. "The United States has called on Alyaksandr Lukashenka to retract these statements."

On October 22, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe President Rene van der Linden issued a statement in which he said Lukashenka's remarks "verge on the absurd, but they are no less unacceptable for it." Van der Linden said that Lukashenka should apologize for "his disgraceful words."

The remarks have also been strongly condemned by Israel.

The Belarusian Embassy to Israel on October 18 posted a statement on its website downplaying Lukashenka's comments.

"Belarus and anti-Semitism are mutually exclusive things," Belapan cited the statement as saying. "Alyaksandr Lukashenka has respect and good feeling for the Jewish people."