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Belarus: President Won't Block Russian Journalists

Minsk, 30 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has pledged that his country will not block the activities of journalists from Russia's ORT channel.

Lukashenka told Russian Vice Prime Minister Valery Serov today in Minsk that he would attend to the matter at once.

ORT's Minsk bureau shut down in July when one of its crews was detained by Belarus authorities for illegally entering the country. One of the journalists, Pavel Sheremets, a Belarus citizen, is still being held awaiting trial. The row has soured relations between the two states, which have signed a union treaty.

While Lukashenka appeared to mend relations with Russia in one area, he lashed out at Moscow in another. In an interview in today's "Sovietskaya Byelorussiya," Lukashenka accused Russia of using energy debts to blackmail Minsk. Belarus owes Russia for fuel supplies provided under complex barter deals from the Soviet-era. But Lukashenka says it is Moscow that owes Minsk some $1 billion for guarding its borders, maintaining anti-aircraft defense systems and collecting customs duties.

The remarks come as Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was set to meet with his Belarus counterpart Sergei Ling later today in Moscow behind closed doors.