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German training, and now supplies, for Belarus police

An interior ministry spokesman has disputed parts of a newspaper report suggesting the German government provided Belarus with crime fighting equipment including batons. Some equipment and training, however, was given.

German authorities provided equipment, not just know-how, to law enforcement authorities in Belarus, according to a report in the Monday edition of mass-circulation daily Bild.

Bild said in its report that the federal interior ministry confirmed that computer and video equipment worth around 41,200 euros ($51,500) was sent to authorities in Minsk between 2009 and 2010.

The newspaper also reported, this time citing only "information," that at least 100 Belarusian police officers were fully equipped with protective equipment between 2008 and 2011. The report said that this included helmets, shields, batons and protective clothing.

The government later denied this aspect, however, with a spokesman for the interior ministry saying "the federal government did not deliver any batons or similar equipment to Belarus."

The spokesman said there was no evidence of this, and concluded that "the equipment provided was limited to computer and camera technologies."

Equipment along with expertise

It emerged last week that Germany's federal police and the criminal Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) division of law enforcement authorities had trained members of the police force in Belarus, starting in 2008.

Police in Belarus are often labeled the lackeys of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The Interior Ministry confirmed that the cooperation began in 2008, was scaled back after the heavily criticized 2010 election in Belarus and its violent aftermath, and was stopped altogether in autumn of last year.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who took up the post in spring 2011, has come into the firing line from the opposition Greens and the Left party since the reports emerged. The main opposition Social Democrats, in a grand coalition with Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats when the deals were originally inked, have been rather less vocal.

Belarus, the subject of multiple EU sanctions, was famously dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship" by the George W. Bush administration in the US. President Lukashenko has been in office since 1994; he won a fourth term late in 2010 with a supposed 80 percent of the votes. Authorities put the turnout at over 90 percent. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe classed the vote as "flawed," but did acknowledge improvements over past ballots.

msh/ccp (AFP, dpa)