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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Asylum Decision Said Near

A request by two Belarussian nationalists for asylum in the United States is being considered "very seriously" and a decision is expected relatively quickly, the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

Belarussian Popular Front leader Zenon Poznyak and fellow activist Sergei Naumchik told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday they were seeking asylum because they feared for their lives. The Belarussian Popular Front leads the opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko's authoritarian rule in the former Soviet republic.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns, who Wednesday declined comment on the affair, said Thursday the request was being considered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS, with advice from the State Department. He said State Department officers had spoken to Poznyak and Naumchik.

"We are very familiar with them as individuals from the past couple of years. We listened to their rationale for their request for asylum and it's being considered very seriously," Burns told reporters. "Although I can't predict what decision will be made ... by the INS, I don't think that this will go on forever, I think there'll be a relatively quick decision on this."

In Minsk, senior Belarussian officials said the pair had nothing to fear in their homeland and suggested U.S. authorities would turn down the request.

Some in Lukashenko's government also continued to dismiss the charges by a Russian Communist lawmaker that the U.S. and opposition leaders are trying to overthrow the president, but Lukashenko said "there is something to" the allegations.

Russian Duma member Viktor Ilyukhin said last week the CIA was conspiring to oust Lukashenko. Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky repeated Ilyukhin's allegations Thursday and voiced support for the Belarussian president, Itar-Tass said.

But Belarus' Foreign Ministry dismissed the charges, saying Belarus enjoys good relations with Russia, the United States and other countries, Interfax reported Friday.

But Lukashenko weighed in for the first time Thursday during a visit to saltworks in the southern city of Mozyr.

In comments carried Friday by Itar-Tass, he said the opposition's heated response to Ilyukhin's remarks was telling. "So there is something to it," the report quoted Lukashenko as saying. "If this is a bid to test my nerves, my nerves are strong." (Reuters, AP)