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Yearbook 2002

Belarus. The security service stated in January that it had unveiled a league that planned to sell uranium. The arrested would have tried to dispose of radioactive fuel from a nuclear reactor for the equivalent million in SEK. Belarus has no nuclear power plants and the material was believed to come from Ukraine, Lithuania or Russia.

2002 Belarus

The head of the OSCE office in Belarus was ordered in April to leave the country after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to extend his visa. The OSCE condemned last year's presidential election for lack of transparency and justice, while President Aljaksandr Lukashenka accused the OSCE of training spies and conspiring to overthrow him.

According to Countryaah website, two journalists were sentenced in June by a court to two and a half years in prison camps accused of slandering President Lukashenka during the election campaign in 2001. The president had been accused of involvement in the disappearance of several opposition politicians. The article was published in the independent weekly magazine Pagonja, which was published in the city of Grodno in western Belarus. The magazine was closed by the authorities after the election but has since been published on the Internet. Lukashenka also banned the work of several prominent regime-critical writers.

In July, former prime minister and opposition leader Michail Chyhir was sentenced to three years in prison. Chyhir, who was head of government between 1994 and 1996, was charged with tax evasion during a previous period in the service of a German company in Moscow. He described the prosecution as politically motivated. Chyhir resigned in 1996 in protest against Lukashenka's giving itself almost dictatorial powers. In 2000, Chyhir was also sentenced to three years' conditional imprisonment. Then he was charged with abuse of power and banned from holding public office for five years.

When President Lukashenka visited Moscow in August, his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin proposed that the two countries form a union built on Russia's constitution, with Belarus to be largely part of the Russian Federation. Lukashenka, who had long dreamed of a union with Russia on a formally equal basis, reacted most with shock and rejected Putin's proposal as unacceptable. The Belarusian press talked about "Moscow's plan to recapture Belarusian territory" and declared that sovereignty was not for sale. For once, the president and the opposition agreed on a crucial political issue, both sides rejected the Russian ambitions. However, this did not lead to Lukashenka relieving the oppression of its political opponents.

When Lukashenka was refused entry to the NATO Summit in Prague in November, he threatened to lift police surveillance of Belarus's borders and allow "drugs and illegal immigrants" to invade Western Europe. He claimed that there were about 150,000 illegal immigrants in Belarus and that many of them wanted to move west in Europe. In protest against Lukashenka's totalitarian rule, all EU countries except Portugal imposed a visa ban on Lukashenka and seven of his closest men, including Prime Minister, Foreign and Defense Minister.

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