LUKASHENKA SAYS EU VISA BAN 'BLACKMAIL'... Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 14 July that the EU ban on visas for Belarusian senior officials in response to the standoff over diplomatic residences at Drazdy is the "usual blackmail and pressure," Reuters reported. "If it wasn't Drazdy, it would be something else. [The West] does not like Lukashenka," he commented while touring the country's southeastern region, which was contaminated by the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. Lukashenka added that Belarus is not afraid of international isolation as a result of the EU visa ban. Belarus "will not respond to savage methods with savage methods.... We are a more civilized nation," AP quoted him as saying. JM

...THREATENS TO REFUSE WESTERN AID FOR CHORNOBYL CHILDREN. Lukashenka also said that Belarus may refuse Western assistance to children affected by the Chornobyl nuclear disaster if the West continues to discriminate against Belarusian citizens who want to visit the EU, Interfax reported. He expressed indignation that some Western embassies in Belarus have created obstacles in granting visas to children sent for treatment abroad using government funds while issuing visas without problems "for children of opposition leaders going abroad via private funds. Thank you, but we do not want such help. We can do without it," Lukashenka commented. JM

UKRAINIAN NATIONAL BANK DEVALUES HRYVNYA. National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko has said the bank is slowly lowering the value of the hryvnya to stop the drain of its foreign currency reserves, Ukrainian News reported on 14 July. The exchange rate slipped from 2.06 hryvnyas to 2.11 hryvnyas to $1 at the beginning of July when foreign investors repatriated some $130 million in government bonds. The National Bank reserves have decreased from $2.5 billion to $1.76 billion in the first half of this year. Yushchenko said that Ukraine's financial situation remains under control and that successful negotiations with the IMF in Washington last week on a new $2.5 billion loan to Ukraine provide hope for a rapid stabilization. JM