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Lukashenka, Pompeo Speak By Phone As Belarusian Opposition Deadline Looms

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service October 24, 2020

MINSK -- Belarusian state media has reported that Alyaksandr Lukashenka spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as pressure mounts on the authoritarian ruler ahead of an opposition ultimatum to end his reign or face increased nationwide protests and strikes.

Earlier on October 24, police detained nine protesters as hundreds of women staged their regular weekend march in the capital to pressure the government and Lukashenka to step aside or call new elections.

Some of the demonstrators were draped in red-and-white opposition flags and others were holding red-and-white umbrellas as they marched through central Minsk for several hours despite the rain.

State TV said on October 24 that Lukashenka told Pompeo a "national dialogue" was taking place in Belarus, an apparent reference to a constitutional amendment process that he has proposed as a way of placating the opposition after a disputed presidential election in August that handed him victory amid allegations the ballot was rigged.

Both the United States and the European Union have refused to accept the results, or that Lukashenka is the rightful leader of the former Soviet republic.

The BelTA state news agency reported the two sides spoke on several topics, with Pompeo saying the United States recognized Belarus's sovereignty and independence.

Lukashenka said Belarus and its ally Russia were ready to respond jointly to external threats, according to both state media outlets.

"In general, the Belarusian leader emphasized that we are in favor of a peaceful and calm resolution of all conflicts, including those on the outer contour," BelTA quoted the Belarusian presidential press service as saying.

There was no immediate confirmation from the U.S. State Department that the two officials had spoken.

Opposition groups, and many Belarusians, say the results of the August 9 vote were fraudulent, and that activist Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in fact is the legitimate winner. She left Belarus for Lithuania shortly after the election amid threats to her and her family.

Minsk and Washington had seen a thawing of relations in recent years, culminating in visit by Pompeo to Belarus in February to help "normalize" ties.

But the crisis has prompted Washington to impose sanctions on Belarus because of the violent crackdowns at demonstrations over the election, while Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, has accused Washington and its allies of fomenting unrest in the ex-Soviet country.

More than 12,000 Belarusians have been detained and hundreds tortured during protests since the election, with at least nine more detained on October 24 as hundreds of women staged their regular weekend march in the capital, Minsk.

Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with Tsikhanouskaya, prompting the opposition to set an October 25 deadline for him to step aside and call new elections or face increased nationwide pressure from wider strikes and protests.

Lukashenka has mentioned the possibility of changes to the constitution several times, but the opposition has dismissed the move as an attempt to buy time and stay in power while cracking down on protesters.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen earlier on October 24 reiterated her country's support for the Belarusian opposition movement, the day after meeting with Tsikhanouskaya.

Democratic rights should never be taken for granted, since these "rights ensure we can take part in free elections and say what we think," Frederiksen said on Facebook.

"The popular uprising of recent weeks in Belarus is a scary reminder that there is still a lot of work to do -- also in Europe," she added.

Frederiksen noted that Denmark supported EU sanctions against Lukashenka.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, Interfax, BelTA, and

Source: -nine-protesters-as-women-stage-regular -weekend-rally/30910662.html

Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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