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BosNewsLife (01/09/06) – Poland will launch an “independent radio station” broadcasting from Poland to neighbouring Belarus in an effort to provide free information amid fresh reports of persecution of Polish and other Christians in the former Soviet Republic , BosNewsLife monitored Monday, January 9.

Radio Polonia, the international service of Polish radio, quoted Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz as saying the station was to start “within weeks.”

Relations between Poland and the government of President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, its eastern neighbor, have been strained after authorities in Minsk last year accused representatives of the Polish minority, the ‘Union of Poles in Belarus’ of “fomenting a revolution”, the network added.

Warsaw intervened in the dispute, which led to a series of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats from the two countries. News of the network came as a Polish Catholic Priest Robert Krzywicki was ordered with another priest in mid-December 2005 to leave Belarus , human rights group Forum 18 said.

Krzywicki left Belarus December 27 after serving as priest in the town of Borisov , north-east of the capital Minsk for 12 years. His supporters gathered with flowers and gifts on the steps of the parish church to see him off, Forum 18 said. The priest said no reason was given for the decision to expel him and stressed he “committed no crime.”

Non-Polish evangelical Christians, including Baptists, have also complained about alleged efforts by authorities to silence them. Among other incidents, in western Belarus a congregation in the town of Brest told Forum 18 News Service “there are incidents all over the place. We don’t know why things changed for the worse, but we don’t believe the pressure has ended.”

Several churches and home groups have reportedly been harassed by security forces in recent months. The congregation of a Baptist Church in Bobruisk , in eastern Belarus , has called for an end to the “persecution” of members of the Yermalitsky family, who host the church’s services in their home.

“The family has faced a series of fines and other harassment from state officials, much of which has been personally orchestrated by Aleksandr Markachev of the town administration,” Forum 18 claimed.

Markachev defended his actions saying “a private home is not designated for religious worship,” and that “their services are illegal,” the group added.

He also alleged that the church services caused the risk of a fire and health problems, but dismissed Forum 18’s suggestions that if church members believed they were at risk of fire or health problems they could choose not to attend.

The congregation has also called for worship services to be allowed to take place freely, and the cancellation of fines imposed on the Yermalitsky family, Forum 18 said.

Human rights workers have linked pressure on Christians and other religious groups as well as known dissidents to fear within the administration of autocratic President Aleksander Lukashenko to lose power.

He is known to have an etensive centralized network that closely monitors political and religious dissent, Forum 18 and other rights groups say.

The United States has described Belarus as the “last dictatorship of Europe ,” charges President Lukashenko has strongly denied. He has however stressed there will be no people’s revolutions, whether “rose, orange or banana”, in his country, a reference to popular protests in Georgia and Ukraine which saw the opposition rise to power.