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Report: Olympics Rile Belarus Ruler

February 20, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to fire all coaches and other sports officials whose athletes ``did not live up to our expectations″ at the Winter Olympics, a news agency said Friday.

``Everyone will be shaken up, including the Sports Ministry,″ he said in Nagano, Japan, according to the Interfax news agency.

Russia knocked Belarus’ hockey team out of competition with a 4-1 quarterfinal victory Wednesday.

Lukashenko, who also heads Belarus’ national Olympic committee, said he had traveled to Nagano in part to see which sports should be developed in Belarus, and ``what kinds of sports should be given state status.″

Earlier this week, Lukashenko publicly accused Olympic organizers of a ``mafia-style injustice″ aimed at undermining Belarus’ athletes following a decision to terminate the men’s 10-kilometer biathlon race due to bad weather.

He alleged that the decision was actually due to the organizers’ realization that athletes from Belarus, Russia and Latvia were performing better than their own.

Lukashenko, who is openly nostalgic for the days of the Soviet Union, runs Belarus with virtually unlimited powers and has repeatedly cracked down on political dissent. He has widespread support in Belarus, a nation of 10 million people.

Belarus so far has won two bronze medals in Nagano. Its government has promised the winners of gold medals $40,000, silver medals $20,000 and bronze medals $15,000.

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