Dictator bans Chernobyl children's holidays

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Thousands of children suffering from illnesses linked to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster have been barred from coming to Britain on charity-funded holidays.

Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of Belarus who is often described as Europe’s last dictator, introduced the ban after a teenage girl on a charity trip to the United States expressed a wish to stay there.

Although she has since returned to Belarus, authorities in the former Soviet republic have halted visits to Britain and other European countries.

More than 4,000 children born in regions worst hit by the Chernobyl disaster 23 years ago travel to Britain every year on free summer holidays. Many are suffering from cancer and leukaemia.

Britain and other European governments are trying to have the ban lifted. Belarus is demanding an undertaking from each country that it will return home any child who wants to stay in the West. A similar arrangement has already been accepted by Italy and Ireland. But the regime insists that only children under 14 will be allowed to leave.

Belarus was badly affected by the explosion at Chernobyl, in neighbouring Ukraine, when strong winds blew in contaminated dust.

Lukashenko, 55, has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994. He has jailed opposition leaders who accused him of vote rigging. Other critics have disappeared.

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