MOSCOW (AP) – Belarus’s authoritarian leader on Wednesday tried to disparage protesters demanding his resignation for the sixth week in a row following controversial elections, accusing the United States of fomenting unrest.
In a lengthy speech to senior officials, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko rallied against the alleged US-led plan to destabilize the country and claimed that US allies in Europe had taken part in the effort that took years to prepare. , part of his efforts to throw in opposition as Western tricks.
Lukashenko did not provide evidence to support his claim that the US had any involvement in the demonstrations.
His main challenger in the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, dismissed his comments as an attempt to divert public attention from vote manipulation and violent crackdowns on protests.
“There is only one reason behind the protests in Belarus and it is well known: Lukashenko has lost the vote, but he does not want to leave,” Tsikhanouskaya told the Associated Press in a written comment. “People have denied Lukashenko’s trust and support and are demanding that he step down.”
Protesters in Belarus have flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, Belarus, and other cities, denouncing Lukashenko’s re-election on August 9 as rigged. The large demonstrations were sparked by frustration with the rule of the strong 26-year-old iron fist of the strong Belarus, his cavalier reaction to the coronavirus and the deterioration of the economy.
The United States and the European Union have criticized the election as neither free nor fair, and have urged Lukashenko to begin talks with the opposition – a call he has rejected.
“We had the vote and we got the result, the period,” Lukashenko said in Wednesday’s speech to senior officials. “It’s time to stop disturbing society.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Wednesday that he hoped his repeated calls would be taken into account for an inclusive political dialogue between Belarusians. He said restoring a national consensus “is absolutely essential for the harmonious development of the country”.
Sergei Naryshkin, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, claimed in a statement issued by Russian news agencies on Wednesday that the United States had funded the Belarusian opposition and encouraged protests.
In a visible attempt to delegitimize the Belarusian protests, Naryshkin added that his agency has information that “the US is playing a key role in the current developments in Belarus.” He claimed that the US had set aside tens of millions of dollars to fund Belarusian opposition groups, but gave no evidence.
The US Embassy in Minsk had no immediate comment.
Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger who left for Lithuania a day after the vote under official pressure, dismissed Naryshkin’s statement.
“It’s an internal political crisis and the protesters ‘demands do not contain anything about relations with other countries or a change in Belarus’ foreign policy course,” she told the Associated Press. “Sir. Naryshkin should understand this better instead of transmitting propaganda date clichés.”
In Wednesday’s speech, Lukashenko accused the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine of helping to provoke protests. All those countries have denied similar claims by Lukashenko in the past.
“The Belarusian 2020 scenario is a combination of the most effective ‘color’ destabilization technologies that have been tested in various countries,” he said in a reference to the color-coded protests ousted by unpopular rulers in other former Soviet nations. “They obviously count on the scale and duration of the protests to exhaust us and deplete our resources. “We are not relaxing and we are ready to respond to any challenge.”
After a fierce crackdown on protests in the first days after the vote in which nearly 7,000 were arrested and hundreds brutally beaten by police, Belarusian authorities changed tactics and tried to quell dissent by selectively banning demonstrators and imprisoning opposition leaders.
Belarusian prosecutors have launched an investigation into opposition activists who set up the Coordinating Council to push for a new election, imprisoning some of its top members and forcing others to move abroad.
Maria Kolesnikova, a leading council member who has been in jail for more than a week after she stole her passport to avoid deportation to Ukraine, was charged Wednesday with making calls for power and change with force of constitutional order. She could face up to five years in prison if convicted.
Kolesnikova suffered from allergies in prison but remains in a good mood, said her lawyer Lyudmila Kazak.
“She wants to tell people who never regretted doing what she did even for a second,” the lawyer said.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, noted that his counterparts from other EU countries will meet on Monday to discuss how to proceed with the sanctions.
“I will say openly that if the violence against the peaceful opposition does not stop, then these measures will have to be extended to more people, and then we will have to talk about Mr Lukashenko,” Maas told the German parliament on Wednesday.
Western pressure has pushed Lukashenko to further cement ties with Russia, its main sponsor and ally. Neighboring countries have a union agreement and maintain strong political, economic and military ties.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new $ 1.5 billion loan in Belarus when he hosted Lukashenko on Monday – a financial escape route condemned by the Belarusian opposition, which warned Moscow it would tarnish future ties between the two countries.
In an effort to rally Moscow’s support, Lukashenko has launched protests as part of a Western plot to isolate Russia. Earlier this week, Russian paratroopers were stationed in Belarus for training that will last until September 25 near Brest, on the border with Poland.
In a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who visited Belarus on Wednesday for talks on deepening military co-operation, Lukashenko said he hoped to get more Russian weapons and suggested planning more maneuvers in the future.
The German foreign minister noted that Russia “bears a very special responsibility” given its close ties with Belarus and warned that “with its unconditional support for Lukashenko so far and its hybrid exercise of influence, Moscow with he will surely lose the sympathy of the people in Belarus. “
Maas also tried to allay the Kremlin’s fears that Belarus would fall into western orbit.
“For us also within the European Union, this is not about Belarus’ secession from Russia and its inclusion in the European Union,” he said. “It is simply a matter of us standing up for the people of Belarus to be able to decide for themselves what path they take in a free and fair election.”
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov reported the story in Moscow, and AP writer Yuras Karmanau reported from Kiev, Ukraine. AP writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
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