Belarussian critic hurt in 'punishment beating'

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The Independent Online

A Russian journalist who has has been openly critical of the Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenko, was recovering in hospital yesterday after being attacked in what may have been a "punishment beating".

A Russian journalist who has has been openly critical of the Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenko, was recovering in hospital yesterday after being attacked in what may have been a "punishment beating".

Pavel Sheremet, head of special projects at Russia's Channel One television station, was in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to cover Sunday's referendum on the presidential ambitions of Mr Lukashenko - described by his critics as "Europe's last dictator" - when he was attacked by two youths as he left a colleague's house. But Mr Sheremet, who is in hospital under police guard, stands accused of initiating the violence and is likely to be charged with hooliganism. He and a witness flatly reject the accusation.

The disputed 80 per cent referendum win for Mr Lukashenko will allow the former Soviet farm boss to override the constitution and serve a third term. Belarus is a post-Soviet state that remains firmly in Russia's sphere of influence, and Channel One plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion. Svetlana Kalinkina, a colleague who witnessed the assault, said: "I think it was a warning attack ... Lukashenko concocted a victory for himself and on that day [Sunday] Sheremet really harried him."

The Russian foreign ministry has called for "guilty parties" to be punished.

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