US blocks Cuba, YU visas for conference

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United States, which is snubbing a conference this week of more than 170 speakers of legislatures from around the world, has now refused to issue visas to the chief Cuban and Yugoslav delegates.

Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's National Assembly, who has visited the United States many times and conducted immigration talks with U.S. officials, was denied a visa as well as key parliamentarians from Yugoslavia, conference organizers and U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said visa decisions were confidential, but noted they were made on the basis of U.S. national interests. He declined to specify how that related to Alarcon.

In its effort to promote democracy, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which Americans helped create in 1889, is holding a two-day conference at the United Nations with the speakers of legislatures from around the world.

Two assembly deputies from Cuba will be permitted to attend the conference, although Alarcon is the chief assembly officer.

"It's unfortunate because it is a conference of presiding officers," said Najma Heptullah, the speaker of India's upper house and president of the IPU, told a news conference on Tuesday when questioned about Alarcon.

The IPU is not a UN organization, but its event is taking place at the United Nations, with which it has close ties. The IPU conference on Wednesday and Thursday is only a few days before the UN Millennium Summit, at which more than 150 world leaders and ministers have received U.S. visas in accordance with agreements between Washington and the world body.


Two Iranian parliamentarians have also been denied visas, although the speaker of the parliament or Majlis, Mehdi Karroubi, was admitted.

One Iranian denied a visa was identified as Mohammed Rezai. A U.S. official said, "A history of violence against Americans would be a factor in any visa decision."

But the controversy between the IPU and Washington started well before the latest visa denials.

An invitation to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert to chair part of the meeting was not answered, and no one from the U.S. Congress is attending. The Republican-led Congress has not paid dues to the IPU since 1996.

Anders Johnsson, the Swedish secretary-general of the group, said that parliamentarians from U.S.-allied countries such as Britain and France had been working on the conference for more than a year.

He said one had to ask "whether they feel snubbed by the fact that those who have the shortest travel to make were the ones who didn't make it."

Demonstrations also are beginning against Li Peng, head of China's National People's Congress. Although overseas dissidents are deeply divided, most share a common dislike of Li, who they say is responsible for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Asked how she defined democracy, Heptullah said, "We do not ask if it is a good or bad parliament, but whether it can legislate and oversee the government."

But she said dialogues and contacts over democracy were all important. "As the United States is a major democracy in the world, we would like them to be a participant with us."

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