Belarus leader accuses opposition of plotting coup in run-up to election
Belarus’s authoritarian leader has claimed that the opposition was plotting a coup in the run-up to last year’s presidential election that triggered a months-long wave of mass protests demanding his resignation.
President Alexander Lukashenko held his annual press conference on Monday, the one-year anniversary of the vote that handed him a sixth term in office but was denounced by the opposition and the West as rigged.
In his opening remarks, Mr Lukashenko defended the election and accused the opposition of preparing a coup.
“We back then carried out preparation for the election and the election itself in the conditions of total transparency and democratisation of political life,” he said.
“The difference was only that some were preparing for fair election, and others called for bashing the authorities – for a coup.”
Belarus was shaken by months of protests triggered by Mr Lukashenko’s re-election, the largest of which drew up to 200,000 people.
Belarusian authorities responded to the protests with a relentless crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
Leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country.
Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 27 years, has denounced his opponents as foreign stooges and accused the US and its allies of plotting to overthrow his government.
The authorities have ramped up their crackdown on dissent in recent weeks, targeting independent journalists and democracy activists in hundreds of raids.