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Chernobyl kids face ban from 'consumerist' Ireland

CHERNOBYL children could be banned from travelling to Ireland for respite breaks. Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko appears on the verge of blocking all such travel to Western countries because of the "consumerist" influence he believes is infecting his country's youth.

CHERNOBYL children could be banned from travelling to Ireland for respite breaks.

The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, appears on the verge of blocking all such travel to Western countries because of the "consumerist" influence he believes is infecting his country's youth.

Concerns about his stance have emerged in the last few days, leading to Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern raising it at a meeting of EU foreign ministers last night.

About 1,000 children are due to arrive in Ireland for Christmas breaks and while these visits are unlikely to be hit, a halt to all such visits is expected in the New Year.

The minister subsequently briefed the Chernobyl Children's Project founder, Adi Roche, on his intervention.

Since the Chernobyl explosion in 1986, Ms Roche's organisation has brought more than 10,000 children to Ireland for Christmas breaks, providing respite from the high levels of radiation still present in Belarus.

Ms Roche expressed deep concern at the development. "We don't know what the future holds for these poor children - it's devastating."

The prospect of a travel ban suddenly emerged last week during a televised speech by President Lukashenko at the start of a new parliamentary session in Minsk, following elections widely considered to be rigged.

Mr Lukashenko said recuperation of children abroad should stop and assistance and funds should be provided so treatment could be provided in Belarus.

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"We should take children out of the country in cases of emergency only. Don't you see the state in which children return from there [the West]?

"How does this way of life benefit us? This consumerist way of life has overwhelmed our youth and the whole country," he said.

The recently re-elected president has been repeatedly described as exercising dictatorial powers. His regime has very poor relations with the EU, which has repeatedly criticised its human rights record and has questioned the disappearance of politicians and journalists.

During his address, he ordered his chief of staff to "roll up his sleeves" to control humanitarian aid. "We do not need threads, rags, crackers and so on."

Although the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the mid-1980s occurred in the Ukraine, the majority of the victims from the fall-out were in neighbouring Belarus at a time when both countries were Soviet republics.

Last week, new research indicated that cancers right across Europe are still being caused from the world's worst nuclear disaster.

Belarus seems to be accelerating its "self-isolationist policy", said Mr Ahern, who expressed his "grave concern" at the looming law and held out little hope it could be averted.


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