UPDATE 1-Belarusian leader credits Russian TV for helping him survive media strike

*State media staff quit amid protests in Belarus. *Belarus is close Russian ally. MOSCOW/ KYIV, Sept 2- Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, has thanked Russian state-backed television channel RT for providing journalists to help prop up Belarusian state media after hundreds of staff went on strike in protest against his rule.

* State media staff quit amid protests in Belarus

* Russian staff help to keep pro-Lukashenko media running

* Lukashenko thanks RT for support during “difficult period”

* Belarus is close Russian ally(Adds comment from RT, Kremlin, strikers, other details,background)

By Tom Balmforth and Ilya Zhegulev

MOSCOW/KYIV, Sept 2 (Reuters) – Alexander Lukashenko, theleader of Belarus, has thanked Russian state-backed televisionchannel RT for providing journalists to help prop up Belarusianstate media after hundreds of staff went on strike in protestagainst his rule.

Some Belarusian media workers have walked off the job duringmore than three weeks of protests over a disputed Aug. 9presidential election marred by vote-rigging allegations thathave triggered huge street protests against Lukashenko.

Russia, a close ally of Minsk, has stepped in to helpLukashenko weather the biggest challenge yet to his 26-yearrule, providing diplomatic and other support while promisingmilitary help if necessary.

Lukashenko said that Kremlin-backed RT, formerly known asRussia Today, had played a vital role in helping Belarusianstate media keep running despite the mass staff walk-offs.

“You understand how important you were to us during thisdifficult period. And what you demonstrated technically, your ITspecialists, and journalists, and correspondents, and so on …and your manager. This is worth a lot,” said Lukashenko.

“I am grateful for this support,” the former Soviet statefarm boss said in an interview aired by RT on Sept. 1.

The RT correspondent who conducted the interview told theBelarusian leader it was important to acknowledge that RT hadnot actually been taking people’s jobs.

Lukashenko said that he was fully briefed on the situationand was aware that RT was working “as our teams”.

RT told Reuters in a statement its crews “were able toprovide some technical expertise to the local media” while inBelarus. RT was also able to share some video content as it doeswith other outlets, it said.

More than 300 Belarusian staff refused to continue workingat several pro-Lukashenko state media television stations aspart of an anti-government media strike that began on Aug. 17,strike coordinator Ksenia Lutskina told Reuters.

Many of them were critical technical staff, ranging fromlighting specialists to cameramen, she said. More than a hundredpeople simply resigned.

Lutskina said Russian media staff began flying into Belarusa day after the strike began and were offered salaries of around$2,000 a month – higher than the national average wage and muchmore than outgoing Belarusians had been paid.

“One of the comrades on that plane coming in used to workwith our guys earlier so we found out about this reallyquickly,” she said.

State television reports are now also being circulated onsocial networks. Lutskina said that in one such clip, the soundwas edited to make it appear – falsely – as if protesters werechanting at prominent protest leader Maria Kolesnikova to “goaway.”

Lutskina said Belarusian state TV coverage has changedradically under Russian influence and that the new arrivalsappeared to be deliberately avoiding Belarusian staff who hadremained at the media outlets.

“No one has actually seen the guys who do the text, theydon’t sit with us,” she said.

Yekaterina Pytleva, a striking Belarusian media worker, saidthe channels had made unusual errors in their coverage, forinstance referring to Belarussia as opposed to Belarus.

A spokeswoman for the Belarusian State TV and Radio Companydeclined to comment. She said she was not authorised to commenton statements by Lukashenko.

The Kremlin said RT took its own decisions about who to sendwhere.(Reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Ilya Zhegulev inKyiv; editing by Andrew Osborn and Hugh Lawson)

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