New Belarus poll on the table
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has faced the biggest protests of his 26-year rule after disputed presidential polls, said Wednesday that he did not rule out calling early elections but it was too soon to set a date.
Unprecedented demonstrations broke out after Lukashenko claimed to have defeated political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and won re-election with 80 per cent of the vote in the August 9 ballot.
In an interview with Russian State media broadcast on Wednesday, Lukashenko said: “I am inclined to conduct an early presidential election. I do not rule this out. I am saying this for the first time,” he noted.
The Opposition has urged Lukashenko to acknowledge defeat and step down so that fresh elections can be held according to international standards.
His security services have hit back with waves of arrests and deadly violence against protesters and a campaign of intimidation and expulsions against opposition leaders.
The president said it was too early to commit to an exact timetable for early polls, adding that any election should take place after the constitutional reforms he has proposed.
Tikhanovskaya has criticised Lukashenko’s plan to change the constitution as a ploy to keep him in power.
He is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the next few weeks in Moscow and said any further moves to integrate the two countries should be based “on an equal footing”.
Russia and Belarus have formed a “union state” linking their economies and militaries. Moscow has recently called for tighter integration but Lukashenko in the past has ruled out outright unification.
“We are sovereign independent countries,” he told Russian reporters.
A prominent Belarusian opposition leader tore up her passport to avoid being forcibly taken across the border into neighbouring Ukraine, her two associates said on Tuesday.
According to Belarusian authorities, Maria Kolesnikova, who became one of the faces of the mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko that began in August, was detained while trying to flee the country on Tuesday.
But her two associates and Ukrainian officials have disputed that version of events, saying Kolesnikova was driven to the Ukrainian border against her will and resisted attempts to expel her from the country.
NBC News could not independently verify the government’s claim or the account of Kolesnikova’s associates.
Amid concerns for her whereabouts, aides in Minsk said Wednesday Kolesnikova’s father was informed that she was being held at a detention center in the capital.
This was also confirmed by her lawyer, Ludmila Kazak, to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti. - AFP