The president of Belarus equated six months of protests against his election to a “rebellion” backed by “very powerful forces,” the Associated Press reported Thursday.
President Alexander Lukashenko said the protests have been supported by powerful foreign forces and that he plans to introduce constitutional reforms that have been criticized for only approving the appearance of conditions, the AP reported. Lukashenko has previously blamed the West for instigating demonstrations against him.
“We must stand up to them no matter what, and this year will be decisive,” Lukashenko said to 2,700 people attending the All-Belarus People’s Assembly in Minsk, the AP reported.
In the face of a harsh crackdown, many young Belarusians continue to protest against authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. pic.twitter.com/TuQxHnueoW
— DW News (@dwnews) February 10, 2021
Lukashenko called the assembly to talk about developing the country, though critics said it was an effort to quell public disapproval, the AP reported. He said that the constitutional reforms will be ready for a national vote in 2022.
Lukashenko announced that he will eventually step down as president from the country he has ruled for over 26 years when “the time will come and other people will come,” according to the AP. Nationwide protests followed his re-election on Aug. 9, with demonstrators and opposition leaders claiming the election was rigged.
“Lukashenko has no intention to leave and doesn’t want to change the system. He’s ready to strengthen repressions,” Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent Minsk-based political analyst said, the AP reported. “Lukashenko didn’t offer a plan of modernizing the country or any clear compromise with the society, and that means that the conflict remains unresolved and protests will continue.”
Demonstrations against the assembly occurred in several cities across the country and multiple people were detained, the AP reported. Lukashenko disputed claims of election fraud during the assembly, though he admitted that local officials could have manipulated the results.
“If some don’t like 80, let it be 76 or even 68!” Lukashenko said, the AP reported. “But we won it anyway, we were backed by an overwhelming majority.” (RELATED: ‘They’re Sick Of The Country’: Number Of Russians Seeking Asylum In The US Jumps Amid Pandemic, Protests)
Over 30,000 demonstrators have been detained and thousands have been beaten since the protests began, according to the AP. Despite the demonstrations being mostly peaceful, law enforcement has responded to crowds with tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons and batons.
The U.S. and European Union have implemented sanctions against the country in response to the claims around Lukashenko’s election, the AP reported. The U.S. Embassy said the assembly is “neither genuine nor inclusive of Belarusian views and therefore does not address the country’s ongoing political crisis.”
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