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Belarus: Lukashenka Threatens To Delay Release Of Russian Journalists

Minsk, 21 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says he wants an apology or disavowal of a statement by a Kremlin spokesman demanding the release of detained Russian journalists. Lukashenka today told the Russian ambassador to Belarus, Valery Loshchinin, if pressure on his government is the Kremlin's official position, he will reverse an earlier promise of quickly releasing the men.

Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said earlier today all Russian journalists being detained in Belarus should be released by the end of the day or else relations with Moscow would suffer.

Interfax quotes Lukashenka as saying he will not allow anyone to deal with Belarus from a position of strength. He described Yastrzhembsky's statement as "blackmail," adding that the Kremlin spokesman might have wanted to create the illusion that Lukashenka has been frightened by the Kremlin's tough stance.

Belarusian authorities over the past two weeks have detained seven employees of Russian public television (ORT) of whom they have so far released one driver.

Speaking speaking on Russian radio earlier today, Yastrzhembsky called it a matter of protecting the honor and dignity of Russian citizens and their health.

Two crews from Russian public television (ORT) are under arrest in Belarus, accused of attempting to cross the border illegally. Three Russian citizens and one Belarusian were detained on Saturday, one day after filming in the Belarusian-Lithuanian border zone. Late last month Belarus police also detained two Belarusian journalists working for ORT, who were preparing a report on illegal border traffic between Lithuania and Belarus. They are still being held in a prison in Hrodno.

After Yastrzhembsky made his comments, Ivan Yurkin, deputy head of Belarus' security council, told Interfax that four ORT employees detained in Belarus over the past week would be released later today.

Yesterday, the deputy head of Belarus' presidential administration, Ivan Pashkevich, said the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has asked the government to suspend the accreditation of ORT in Belarus. Pashkevich is accusing ORT management of organizing a political provocation against the Belarus leadership.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov said Belarus had promised his ministry it would free the ORT journalists in the next few days.