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02/08/02 . N/A . Yahoo! News . BELARUS
Belarusian authorities close off biggest McDonald's amid lease dispute
MINSK, Belarus - Belarusian authorities closed off the capital's biggest McDonald's on Friday to make way for a new university building in what the restaurant chain and the U.S. Embassy called a violation of investors' rights.
City construction workers erected a 2-meter (6.6-foot) fence around the three-story building near the city's railroad station and forbade most people from entering the site.
"The rights of a foreign investor are threatened," said McDonald's spokeswoman Olga Troyan.
In 1997, McDonald's signed an agreement to lease the land for its restaurant until 2036. However, officials later said the land the city rented out actually belonged to Belarusian State University, which has a building next to the restaurant.
Last year, the university said it intended to build on the land where the McDonald's stands. Negotiations between the company and the university produced no compromise.
McDonald's on Friday sent a letter to Belarus' prime minister and to the city government, asking them to help settle the dispute.
Both the university and the city government declined to comment.
U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak said the situation was one of many cases in which Belarusian authorities violated agreements with foreign investors.
"Investors should be concerned that it is not safe to invest money in this country," he said.
McDonald's, which has six restaurants in Minsk, says it has invested more than dlrs 14 million in Belarus since 1996. In 2001, it
paid dlrs 3.5 million in taxes.