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Belarus leader denied entry to Britain for Olympics or otherwise

July 25, 2012 |  1:32 pm

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
MOSCOW -- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, viewed by many as Europe's last dictator, will not attend the London Olympics after being denied entry to Britain, officials said Wednesday.

Lukashenko, who also serves as head of the nation's Olympic Committee, is on a list of people barred from European Union countries, Inna Romashevskaya, press secretary for the British Embassy in Minsk, told the Interfax-Zapad news agency.

“This ban also remains in force during the Olympic Games and this decision will not be changed,” Romashevskaya said.

The 57-year-old leader of the former Soviet republic of Belarus was blacklisted by the European Union and the U.S. in 2006 for human rights violations. That ban was lifted in 2008, then reinstated by the EU in early 2011 after the Lukashenko government cracked down on opposition figures after his disputed victory in the December 2010 presidential election.

Poet and former presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyayev, who was beaten and imprisoned after the election and remains under house arrest, said the visa denial shows "the rest of the world" that Europe is unhappy about its "one dictatorship."

“This public humiliation serves Lukashenko right,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

Lukashenko this year took a few steps toward appeasing the West and pardoned several key political opponents including former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Sannikov, leader of the European Belarus movement. 

Sannikov, who was released from prison in April after 16 months of captivity -- four of those in solitary confinement -- is recuperating in a hospital in neighboring Lithuania.

His wife, Irina Khalip, a reporter with the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said denying Lukashenko a visa was an appropriate way to deal with him.

“Lukashenko wanted so much to attend the Games that he even had a special Olympic suit manufactured for him," she said in a phone interview. 

Lukashenko said this month that he expected the Belarusian team to win 20 to 25 medals in London, the Interfax news agency reported.

Also Wednesday, Alexander Zhukov, head of the Russian Olympic Committee, wrote in a Twitter post: "The organizing committee of the London Olympic games didn't give an accreditation to Belarus NOC [national Olympic committee] A. Lukashenko. Is sports outside politics?"

But the International Olympic Committee and organizers of the London Games reportedly denied banning Lukashenko.

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-- Sergei L. Loiko

Photo: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and son Nikolay arrive to watch a military parade to mark the nation's Independence Day in central Minsk on July 3. Credit: Nikolai Petrov / AFP/Getty Images

 

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