Belarus leader snubs Russia, Ukraine over Chernobyl
President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday toured regions in Belarus contaminated by the Chernobyl fallout, staying away from ceremonies attended by his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts at the site.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred in the early hours of April 26, 1986 when a reactor exploded, contaminating the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus with the fallout also spreading to other parts of Europe.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was later Tuesday to make a landmark visit to the stricken, now idle nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, joined by his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych to mark the 25th anniversary of the accident.
Lukashenko had conspicuously decided to stay away from the joint commemorative ceremonies, choosing instead to tour his country's farmlands polluted by the radioactive fallout.
"Visiting the country's contaminated regions during the days of the Chernobyl tragedy has become a tradition," Lukashenko's press department said.
"The leader of the country spends several days every year here," it said, noting Lukashenko visited the Brest region on Monday and was set to tour the Gomel region on Tuesday.
His spokespeople did not say why Lukashenko, who is known for his frequent public outbursts and walkouts, chose not to join his Russian and Ukrainian colleagues.
The Belarussian strongman was also condemned by the West for a crackdown on protests after his election victory on December 19.
More than a quarter of Belarus's territory was contaminated by the nuclear disaster and more than 460 villages had to be evacuated in its aftermath.
The damage from the Soviet-era nuclear accident is estimated at $235 billion (160 billion euros), according to Lukashenko's presidential office.
Since its independence in 1991 following the disintegration of the Soviet Union the country has invested more than $19 billion to decontaminate the polluted areas including farmland.
During his annual tours, Lukashenko visits hospitals, stores, schools, and farms where locals grow produce.
© 2011 AFP