19.05.2022

Lukashenko and Putin say Belarus problems will be settled

Authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin have said they are confident “all existing problems” in Belarus will be settled soon as protests surged in the capital of Minsk this weekend.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Saturday at an area in the capital where a protester died in clashes with police, calling for Mr Lukashenko to resign after 26 years in power.

It was the seventh consecutive day of large protests following the results of a contested presidential election, which Mr Lukashenko has claimed to have won with a landslide.

Opposition supporters have said they believe the figures have been manipulated and Mr Lukashenko’s election rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has been forced to leave Belarus this week following threats to her family.

In a statement released on Saturday, the Kremlin said Mr Lukashenko and Mr Putin had a telephone conversation at the request of the Belarusian president to discuss the situation in the country.

“Both sides expressed confidence that all existing problems will be settled soon,” the Kremlin said.

“The main thing is to prevent destructive forces from using these problems to cause damage to mutually beneficial relations of the two countries within the Union State.”

Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s minister of foreign affairs, questioned the motivation for the call between the two leaders.

“Former president of Belarus now asks Putin for help. Against whom? Against his own people carrying flowers on the streets?” Mr Linkevicius wrote on Twitter.

The call came as Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, told a news conference in Warsaw with his Polish counterpart that the US did not believe Belarus’ election had been conducted fairly.

“We’ve said the elections themselves in Belarus weren’t free. I’ve spent the last days consulting with our European partners,” Mr Pompeo said.

“Our common objective is to support the Belarusian people. These people are demanding the same things that every human being wants.”

EU foreign ministers have also said they reject the election results and have begun drawing up a list of officials in Belarus who could face sanctions over their role in the crackdown.

Demonstrations this week have swelled into the largest and most sustained protest movement since Mr Lukashenko took power in 1994, despite a harsh police response and the detention of some 7,000 people.

A funeral was held on Saturday for Alexander Taraikovsky, a 34-year-old protester who died in the capital on Monday.

Belarusian police have said he died when an explosive device he allegedly intended to throw at police blew up in his hand.

However, his partner, Elena German, told AP that when she was shown his body in a morgue on Friday, there was no damage to his hands and he had a perforation in his chest which appeared to be a bullet wound.

About 5,000 demonstrators gathered on Saturday in the area where Mr Taraikovsky died and laid a mass of flowers in tribute, piling into a mound about 1.5m (5 feet) tall, as passing cars blared their horns.

“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,” Artem Kushner, a 30-year-old protester, told AP.

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