Lukashenko blames strife on west’s spies
Alexander Lukashenko, the autocratic Belarus president, blamed western intelligence agencies for fomenting unrest against his 23-year rule after a spate of public protests.—
Belarus’s autocratic president has blamed western intelligence agencies for fomenting unrest against his 23-year rule after public protests in the tightly controlled country over the past month.
Thousands of people have taken part in protests in cities against a new tax on unemployment, in the strongest show for years of public discontent at Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. The discontent in the strategically important state has partly been fuelled by a two-year long recession.
In an unprecedented volte-face Mr Lukashenko agreed to suspend the new law but failed to defuse the protests, whichhavecalledforhisresignation.He said yesterday that “western funds” were behind what he called the “fifth column” in the country.
“Recent events have raised our concerns and shown that we should stay on the lookout,” he said, in a report by local news agency Belta.
“This pertains to the attempt of our fifth column with the financial assistanceofwesternfundsandwiththeguidance of western intelligence services to encourage our roughnecks, who have run away from the country abroad, to destabilise the situation in Belarus.”
More than 200 people have been detained by police after joining in the protests, which began in mid-February in response to a new law that allowed for a $250 fine for people who work fewer than 183 days in a year.
Mr Lukashenko, once dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of state, responded to the unrest by delaying implementation of the law until 2018.
But protest organisers have called for the law to be completely abandoned and for him to relinquish power, threatening more protests this week.
The country has been hit by two years of recession following the collapse in oil prices and economic slowdown in Russia, its most important trading partner.
Mr Lukashenko, who human rights groups say has suppressed opposition movements and curbed freedom of speech, has in recent years attempted to strike a balance between Russia and the EU, as he seeks foreign investment for the country’s mainly state-run economy.
While Moscow considers Minsk part of its sphere of influence, deepening ties with the EU has become increasingly important for Belarus as relations with Moscow have chilled. The two countries have recently engaged in a border quarrel and haggling over Belarus’s energy supplies.
The EU agreed to lift the bulk of its sanctions against Minsk a year ago after Mr Lukashenko’s fifth consecutive election victory which, unlike his previous win, did not involve violent crackdowns against opposition politicians.
‘Recent events have raised our concerns and shown that we should stay on the lookout’