Belarus leader cites alleged NATO threat to shore up rule

MINSK (HRNW) — Belarus’ authoritarian leader accused NATO on Friday of hatching aggressive plans and threatened neighbors Lithuania and Poland with counter-sanctions as he sought to shore up his 26-year rule amid weeks of demonstrations against his reelection in a vote the opposition says was rigged.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the 9.5-million nation in Eastern Europe with an iron fist since 1994, blamed the West for fomenting demonstrations in Belarus in hopes of turning it into a “bridgehead against Russia.”

“They want to topple this government and replace it with another one that would ask a foreign country to send troops in support,” he said. “They want our market to sell their products.”

NATO has rejected previous such claims by Lukashenko. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that the Belarusian leader tries to conjure up the image of outside forces threatening Belarus as an excuse for his crackdown on the opposition, which has seen hundreds of protesters beaten by police.

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