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Moscow police clash briefly with protesters outside Belarusian Embassy

March 30, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ Three days before Russia and Belarus take steps to merge their countries, opposing Belarusian factions clashed briefly with police Sunday outside the Belarus Embassy.

Several dozen supporters of authoritarian President President Alexander Lukashenko held an unauthorized rally outside the embassy in central Moscow, half an hour before a scheduled protest by Russian journalists, Russia’s NTV network reported.

The journalists were angered by Belarus’ decision last week to bar Russian TV stations from broadcasting out of the country.

Fearing confrontations between the two groups, police broke up the supporters’ rally, clashing briefly with picketers who refused to leave, NTV said.

NTV broadcast footage of police grabbing picket signs and pressing back demonstrators, most of whom were elderly and chanted ``Lukashenko, Lukashenko.″

When a handful of journalists arrived for their protest, police said their demonstration was unauthorized and told them to leave. Two journalists who unrolled a banner were detained.

Lukashenko’s government has criticized Russian news coverage of Belarus, which has included frequent footage of police breaking up protests by the largely nationalist opposition. The broadcast ban was apparently lifted after several days.

Lukashenko’s government also expelled Alexander Stupnikov, an NTV reporter, and warned that they will review the accreditation of all journalists.

Belarus, wedged between Russia and Poland, is the only former Soviet republic seeking to reunify with Russia. Some reunification documents are expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Reunification is generally supported by both Belarusians and Russians, though some Russian lawmakers have begun to express doubts.

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