Belarus patriots assail union with Russia

Thousands marched through Minsk in Belarus yesterday to protest against plans for a new pact with Russia, which many see as a step towards the end of the country's independence.

Angry marchers surrounded the state television station, whose output is is tightly controlled, and demanded air time for opposition politicians. The demonstrators left at the urging of police, but riot police later beat groups of protesters outside the headquarters of the security service, which is still known as the KGB.

The demonstration was originally called to mark the founding of the Belarussian People's Republic in 1918, which only survived nine months before the country was carved up between Poland and Soviet Russia.

But the purpose of the rally changed after Saturday's announcement in Moscow of a new "union" between Belarus and Russia. The declaration was made by the Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenko, with the Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, standing at his side.

The union, which the Kremlin insists does not mean any change in sovereignty, came as no surprise. Mr Lukashenko has made no secret of his desire for integration with Russia. He has said the terms will include setting up a "Supreme Council", comprising the two presidents, the prime ministers and parliamentary leaders.

The pact, to be signed on 2 April, is a measure the post-Soviet economic decline of Belarus and its weak sense of national identity compared to other ex-Soviet republics, many of which seek closer co-operation with Russia but balk at moves that smack of a return to Moscow's rule. It is likely to worry Ukraine, which will not welcome signs that Russia is poised to devour its western neighbour.

Russia has long been aware that Belarus lies on a key route between Moscow and Berlin. But the pact appears to have as much to do with an attempt to win votes by President Boris Yeltsin. With 12 weeks to go before he faces the electorate, he is mindful of the nostalgia for Soviet times.

This was driven home on 15 March, when the State Duma (lower house of parliament) caused a stand-off with the Kremlin by denouncing the accords that dissolved the Soviet Union and created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Many CIS states viewed the vote as alarming, fearing their independence may be threatened if the Communist Party, which has the largest number of seats in the Duma, has a president in the Kremlin.

Mr Lukashenko does not share these concerns, but many of his liberal parliamentarians do. They were furious they were not consulted, before he went to Moscow to give away a portion of their freedom.

Mr Lukashenko, a former collective-farm boss, displays some of the worst instincts of Soviet Bolshevism, from censoring the press, to banning trade unions and ignoring his own constitutional court. He has been pressing for further integration with Russia since his reelection in 1994, and backed attempts to inhibit the revival the Belarussian language. Mr Lukashenko also supported the referendum which replaced the country's red-and-white national flag with a Soviet-style standard.

"Lukashenko has ceased being a president. He is now outside the law and the constitution," Zenon Poznyak, leader of the Belarussian Popular Front, told the crowd on the streets of Minsk.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup