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Belarus Newsaper Forced To Close

September 29, 1999

MINSK, Belarus (AP) _ A leading opposition newspaper in Belarus said Wednesday it was shutting down following a court order to pay an exorbitant fine to the national security chief over an article he said injured his reputation.

The Naviny newspaper, which has come under frequent pressure from Belarus’ authoritarian government, said in its last issue Wednesday that ``both the suit and the trial were a cover-up for a carefully planned campaign by the authorities seeking to close down our newspaper.″

``We interfered with the efforts of (President Alexander) Lukashenko and his entourage to frighten citizens and quash dissent,″ said the editorial headlined ``Political Reprisals.″

Naviny said it could not afford to pay a $52,000 fine to Security Council chairman Viktor Sheiman as ordered by a Minsk court.

Naviny chief editor Pavel Zhuk told a news conference the newspaper will soon resume publication under a different name _ a tactic the newspaper had been forced to resort to in the past. Naviny will be published as Nasha Svaboda, or Our Freedom, Zhuk said.

The amount of the fine is staggering in this former Soviet republic, where the average wage is $30 a month. The newspaper earns about $2,700 a month, the newspaper’s representative in court, Nikolai Khalezin, said.

Zhuk said the trial was ``summary and unfair.″

A Sept. 14 article said Sheiman, the security chief, had bought a house for his parents and built a luxurious summer home for himself nearby. The piece also said he had risen from the rank of major to major general in five years.

Sheiman denied both points, and filed a lawsuit with a city court in the capital, Minsk, on Sept. 16.

The next day, the newspaper’s bank accounts were frozen and all its property seized by federal authorities. Last Friday, the court ruled in Sheiman’s favor.

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