Operetta scenes in Belarus Confrontation: Erratic president clashes with foreign governments as he tries to evict ambassadors.

June 22, 1998

IN FOUR years since his election, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has forged a reputation for the bizarre.

For instance, he has proclaimed his admiration for both Hitler and Stalin. Currently, Mr. Lukashenko is campaigning for the return of the Soviet national anthem in his country of 10 million people -- as a first step toward restoring the Communist empire.

These antics have not won the increasingly autocratic president plaudits outside his country, formerly part of the Soviet Union, tucked between Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

After he extended his term until 2001 in a questionable referendum, many foreign governments effectively stopped recognizing Mr. Lukashenko.

That's why the 43-year-old leader ordered 22 foreign ambassadors evicted from their residences in April.

The envoys kept refusing. On Friday, Mr. Lukashenko ordered the water and electricity at these residences be turned off.

Mr. Lukashenko's action is unheard of in the annals of diplomacy. He must be proud.

Cutting water and electricity rank among the chief achievements of his erratic presidency, under which there has been a steady erosion in Belarus' economy and in its residents' living standards.

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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