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Belarus: Lukashenko rejects foreign mediation

Thousands of people have joined renewed protests in Minsk against President Alexander Lukashenko’s reelection. Despite talks with Russia’s Putin, the embattled leader has vowed to solve the crisis alone.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday struck a defiant tone, rejecting foreign mediation to resolve the worsening crisis in his country, sparked by his controversial sixth-term election win. Earlier, he held a telephone call with Russia leader and ally President Putin.

“We don’t need any foreign governments, any intermediaries,” state news agency Belta quoted Lukashenko as saying during a meeting at the defense ministry.

“We will not give up the country to anyone,” vowed Lukashenko, adding: “We have a government that has been set up in accordance with the constitution.”

Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed confidence that the unrest gripping Belarus will soon be resolved, during a telephone call, the Kremlin said in a statement.

“These problems should not be exploited by destructive forces seeking to harm the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries,” the statement said.

The Kremlin said it was “confident” of a swift resolution in the matter.

The former Soviet republic has remained closely aligned with its larger neighbor, forming a nominal union with Moscow in the 1990s following its independence after the breakup of the Soviet bloc.

Anti-government protesters gathered at a spot where a demonstrator died in clashes with police.

Ongoing protests

Meanwhile, thousands of people gathered in the capital Minsk for the seventh consecutive day of large anti-government protests. The opposition called for more protests against Lukashenko’s disputed reelection. 

Many laid flowers near a metro station where 34-year-old demonstrator Alexander Taraikovsky died in clashes with security forces earlier this week. The crowd chanted “Thank you!” and raised victory signs while police kept a low profile.

“It’s awful to live in a country where you can be killed at a peaceful protest. I will leave, if power isn’t changed,” reported news agency AP, citing 30-year-old demonstrator Artem Kushner.

Huge crowds have been taking to the streets daily since Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory on Sunday. In the biggest challenge to his 26-year rule, demonstrators accuse him of rigging the vote and demand he steps down. 

What were Lukashenko and Putin discussing?

Commenting on the telephone conversation between the long-time allies, Kate Shmatsina, an analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, told DW: “Lukashenko is saying that the instability that is now unraveling in Belarus could have a spill-over effect in Russia as well.”

“This comes together with Lukashenko’s understanding that he is not able to manage the situation domestically. In any case, he is dependent on Russia — in terms of economy and foreign policy. At the moment Putin is his only ally.”

Thousands arrested

Officials said that two protesters have died, and almost 7,000 have been arrested, in the post-election demonstrations. Rights organization Amnesty International has decried “a campaign of widespread torture and other ill-treatment by the Belarusian authorities who are intent on crushing peaceful protests by any means.”

The European Union announced on Friday that it would impose new sanctions on Belarusian officials who are responsible for the violence. The bloc condemned the police crackdown on protesters as “disproportionate and unacceptable,” and described the election as “neither free nor fair.”

According to the RIA news agency, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry said Saturday it was committed to dialogue in all circumstances with the EU.  

According to the RIA news agency, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry said Saturday it was committed to dialogue in all circumstances with the EU.

kmm/mm (AP, Reuters, dpa) (DW)