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Belarus/Russia: Words Exchanged Over Jailed Reporter

Moscow, 16 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Belarus and Russia have exchanged harsh words over the fate of a Russian reporter arrested by Minsk.

A statement from Russian President Boris Yeltsin's press office yesterday said that Russia regretted the need to return to the issue which seems "clear and understandable to everyone."

The statement was a reaction to remarks made earlier today by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's press secretary Valery Tolkachev who told Interfax that Pavel Sheremet, a correspondent for Russian Television (ORT), would go on trial. Tolkachev said that such a course of action corresponded to an agreement reached by Yeltsin and Lukashenka in Moscow on Sept. 6. But Yeltsin's press service said it believed the issue would be closed soon "in the spirit of humanity and for the sake of the future of the Russian-Belarussian union."

Sheremet and an ORT colleague were arrested on July 26 after filming along the Belarus-Lithuania border. Belarussian authorities charged them with illegally crossing the border.

Meanwhile, a deputy chairman of the Belarusian National Front, a group opposed to Lukashenka, was arrested yesterday in Minsk. Yury Belenky was seized in the office of Belpromstroybank, where he works. He was handcuffed and taken by force to the police station without any explanations. Belenky was released after a few hours, after he had claimed parliamentary immunity.

Also today, the European Union slammed what it called the anti-democratic attitude of Belarus and Lukashenka and said it had suspended EU participation in talks between the government and its opponents.