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Western Press Review: Rude Antidiplomacy In Belarus; Polite Strike In Russia

Prague, 27 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary focuses on two contraditictory phenomena -- the rudeness in recent days of Belarussian diplomacy, and the politeness of the labor "strike" called for today in Russia.

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Lukashenka has praised Hitler and endorsed Stalin

Belarus leadership Sunday offended the United States by expelling a U.S. diplomat and, in recent days, has denounced the Russian media. Alan Philps writes today in a news analysis: "(President) Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the increasigly despotic leader of Belarus, yesterday promised his people round-the-clock snooping, summary justice and eternal struggle against shadowy enemies abroad."

Philps says: "Mr Lukashenka already has praised Hitler and now he seems to be endorsing Stalin." The writer says: "Mr. Lukashenka's country, sandwiched between Russia and Poland, is a sort of black hole in the heart of Europe, where freedom of the press and right of assembly are violated. It is probably the only place in Erurope where foreign embassies tell visiting businessmen not to invest their money."

He says: "Though Mr. Lukashenka is widely seen as a buffoon in educated circles -- he is known in Minsk as Alkashenko, a pun on the world alkash, meaning alcoholic -- he appears popular among rural people."

NEW YORK TIMES: Even Russia has criticized Lukashenko

In today's edition, Steven Erlanger writes from Washington in a news analysis: "Lukashenka has resisted economic and political reform, has cracked down on the opposition with a series of arrests and has expelled the executive director of the Belarussian Soros Foundation, which supports independent media and trade unions." Erlanger says: "He also has ordered an audit of the foundation and other nongovernmental organizations and clamped down on Russian journalists trying to cover events in Belarus." He adds: "Even Russia has criticized Lukashenko, issuing a statement Tuesday rebuking Belarus for hampering Russian journalists working there."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Lukashenka angered both Moscow and Washington

Today's edition of the British newspaper carries a news analysis by Matthew Kaminski, who writes: "Lukashenka, who in a rare diplomatic feat angered both Moscow and Washington this week, warned his countrymen yesterday that Belarus must face up to international isolation."

Kaminski says: "(He broadcast a) fiery speech (that) suggests the charismatic Mr. Lukashenka may be trying to shore up domestic support in the face of international criticism of his authoritarian rule." And adds: "The Kremlin's criticism of Belarus vindicated Russian liberals who oppose closer ties with Mr. Lukashenka. But nationalists in Moscow yesterday called Sunday's protests (in Belarus) a Western provocation aimed at undermining Slavic union ahead of (Lukashenka's) meeting next week with (Russian) President Boris Yeltsin."


LONDON INDEPENDENT: Russians have good reason for outrage

Phil Reeves, writing today in a news analysis, examines the curiously mannerly labor unrest in Russia and the Yeltsin's administration's efforts to damp it down. He writes: "Mass strikes in Russia tend to produce unwarranted alarmist warnings of unrest, but yesterday's theatrical flurry by the leadership suggests that the Kremlin is concerned." Reeves writes: "Certainly, most Russians have good reason for outrage." He says: "In much of Russia, the idea of going on strike is considered pointless as many of the industries are already at a standstill."

LONDON TIMES: The government unveiled plans to pay back wages and pensions

On the same topic, Richard Beeston writes today in an analysis: "Russia's newly formed government yesterday sought to head off the threat of violent nationwide protests by millions of angry workers today when it unveiled plans to pay (thousands of millions of dollars) in back wages and pensions."

Beeston writes: "Police and paramilitary troops will be out in force to try to prevent the demonstrations (from) becoming violent, particularly those scheduled to take place outside the government headquarters at the White House. The building on the Moscow embankment was the scene of clashes in 1991 between Boris Yeltsin and communist coup leaders, and again in 1993 between Mr. Yeltsin and a rebellious parliament."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Protests are not expected to affect production

In today'S edition, Matthew Brzezinski writes in a news analysis: "The planned demonstrations in 260 cities across Russia's 11 time zones come as the first real challenge to the new-look cabinet of young liberal reformers President Boris Yeltsin appointed to put Russia's economic house in order."

"Virtually all factories in Russia will be open for business today. The protests aren't expected to affect production gravely. Union leaders, in fact, are coordinating most events closely with local authorities in much the same way they did during the Soviet-era when the labor movement was independent in name only."

BOSTON GLOBE: Yeltsin banned imported cars for government officials

In an action more related to the topic than it may seem, President Yeltsin issued a decree yesterday banning purchases of imported cars for Russian officials. David Filipov comments today: " They are the undisputed symbols of power in post-Communist Russia: The sleek imported luxury cars with flashing blue lights and government plates, whizzing through Moscow's streets, seemingly oblivious to speed limits, traffic signals and little old ladies in crosswalks.

'Now, Russian officials accustomed to life in the fast lane -- or, when they're really in a hurry, the oncoming traffic lane -- will have to get their high-speed kicks in clunky, gas-guzzling Volga sedans produced in Russia. President Boris N. Yeltsin, striking a populist note on the eve of a one-day nationwide strike by workers who have gone months without paychecks, (yesterday) banned the purchase of new imported cars for Russian officials as of April 1."


And Carol J. Williams chimes in today (FF12): "The moves, inspired by a reformist newcomer to the government, are expected to win cheers from a struggling population and could mute (today's) nationwide labor strike, which is expected to idle as many as 17 million workers. With millions of Russians scratching out a living below the poverty level, the sight of sleek Mercedes, Volvo and BMW sedans with government license plates sweeping through Moscow inspires resentment among the masses."

U.S. Issue: Gore In China

Commentary in the United States fixes a critical eye on the performance on his visit to China of Vice President Al Gore.

WASHINGTON POST: Handling questions about fundraising

John F. Harris says: "If nothing else, Gore's Beijing stop showed that he has yet to find a way to handle the questions over his role in Washington's campaign fund-raising controversy."

NEWSDAY: Some Democrats oppose administration policy

Glenn Kessler writes: "Some of Gore's potential opponents in the Democratic primaries oppose the administration's decision not to link trade with China with the country's human rights record."

NEW YORK TIMES: Al Gore did not look like a happy man in Beijan

And, in an editorial, the Times said: "Al Gore did not look like a happy man in Beijing this week. At every turn Gore seemed to run into the White House's 1996 fund-raising abuses, and he seemed uncertain whether to flee the connection or confront it."