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Belarus/Russia: President Lukashenka Denied Entry Into Russia

Moscow, 2 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was forced to cancel a visit to Russia at short notice this morning after Russian officials said they would not allow his plane to land. Lukashenka was scheduled to leave Minsk early this morning to attend trade events in two Russian cities but had to cancel after a last-minute appeal to Russian President Boris Yeltsin failed to secure landing clearance.

The incident provoked an angry exchange between the two countries, whose relations are already strained over the detention of a television journalist, Pavel Sheremet, earlier this summer. Yeltsin had made Sheremet's release a pre-condition for the visit.

Lukashenka said in a statement that his country would tolerate no political pressure from Russia.

Reuters news agency quotes Yeltsin in Nizhny Novgorod today as saying that Lukashenka must first release Sheremet before he can visit.

Yeltsin didn't comment directly on today's incident but made a clear reference to Lukashenka's visit. Speaking in Nizhny Novgorod, Yeltsin warned regional governors that they are forbidden from inviting heads of states without his permission.

Sheremet, a Belarus citizen and correspondent for Russia's ORT television, was arrested in Belarus in July on charges of illegally crossing the Belarus-Lithuanian border.

The snub is the second in two months for Lukashenka. In August, he called off a trip to the western enclave of Kaliningrad after the local governor there urged him to cancel.