Belarus' president threatens to ban foreign media

AP News
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Posted: May 27, 2011 10:39 AM
Belarus' president threatens to ban foreign media

The autocratic president of Belarus on Friday threatened to ban some foreign media organizations from working in the country after what he described as their alarmist coverage of the deepening financial crisis.

Lukashenko directed his harshest criticism at the Russian media, saying their coverage contained the most "hysteria" because many Belarusians watch Russian television channels.

He also ominously criticized some Belarusian journalists working for foreign organizations, ordering the government to "make sure those media organizations no longer work on our territory." Lukashenko said he would not name the journalists or organizations because he did not to increase their ratings.

Belarus is engulfed in its most severe economic downturn since the Soviet collapse. With currency reserves badly depleted, the National Bank this week cut the value of the Belarusian ruble against the dollar almost in half, which set off panic buying.

Journalists have reported how Belarusians have been rushing to buy up goods and lining up for days at currency exchange offices to get dollars and euros in a desperate attempt to protect their savings.

Lukashenko also threatened to sack his government if it does not manage to put the economy back on track.

Russian presidential human rights ombudsman Mikhail Fedotov said he was shocked by Lukashenko's threat.

"Such a statement is especially astonishing if you take into account how the global information space is developing," Fedotov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying. "We are becoming more open. To try to create a closed space is impossible."

Minsk is hoping to shore up the economy with a $3 billion loan from Russia, but the Kremlin insists that Belarus put up for sale some of its more lucrative assets, including refineries, machinery and chemical plants.

Lukashenko said there will be no sales, "let alone for the song that someone is hoping to snap them up for."

Standard & Poor's on Friday lowered Belarus' currency credit rating by one notch and placed it on negative watch, meaning it is likely to be further cut.

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Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.