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World News

Belarus blasts U.S. shield, vows to work with Russia

MINSK (Reuters) - President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday Belarus would disregard its economic rows with Russia and work closer with Moscow to counter U.S. plans to erect an anti-missile system in eastern Europe.

Belarussia's President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during an interview with Reuters in Minsk February 6, 2007. Lukashenko said on Tuesday Belarus would disregard its economic rows with Russia and work closer with Moscow to counter U.S. plans to erect an anti-missile system in eastern Europe. REUTERS/BelTa/Presidential Press Service

Lukashenko, barred from the United States and European Union over allegations of rigging his 2006 re-election, quarreled with Russia in the New Year over energy prices and has called for improved ties with the West. But he dismisses any notion that he must first improve Belarus’s human rights record.

Lukashenko renewed his criticism of stationing parts of the proposed U.S. system in neighboring Poland and the Czech Republic during ceremonies marking Belarussian independence day.

“The eastward expansion of NATO’s military infrastructure and planned deployment of parts of the U.S. anti-missile system in countries next to Belarus seriously worsens the military and political situation on our borders,” he told the gathering.

“Despite the economic difficulties in relations with Russia, Belarus will remain true to its obligations and bear its share of responsibility for defending our union state.”

Lukashenko was referring to a series of pacts signed with Russia since 1996 on the creation of a “union state” reuniting Belarus with Russia to the east.

Negotiations have failed to produce concrete moves towards a merger and Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin has proved cooler to the proposal than his predecessor, Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin.

Both Putin and Lukashenko have voiced strong opposition to the proposed U.S. system. The Russian leader has proposed alternatives, including joint use of a radar in Azerbaijan.

At talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in Maine, Putin suggested incorporating a radar system in southern Russia and giving European nations more decision-making power within the framework of the Russia-NATO council.

The United States and EU accuse Lukashenko, in power since 1994, of crushing basic rights by dispersing demonstrations, jailing opponents and closing down independent media.

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