Belarus Leader Rejects Compromise and Pours Scorn on Opposition

Belarus Leader Rejects Compromise and Pours Scorn on Opposition

Belarus Leader Rejects Compromise and Pours Scorn on Opposition

Belarus Leader Rejects Compromise and Pours Scorn on Opposition

MINSK, Belarus — A day after being shouted down by workers who once supported him, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus on Tuesday vowed to stand firm against those protesting a fraud-tainted election and calling for him to step down.

Rather than showing any signs of yielding, he awarded medals for “impeccable service” to members of his brutal security services and denounced his opponents as “tricksters” and “Nazis” intent on seizing power.

Huddled in Minsk, the capital, with his Security Council of senior military and security officials, Mr. Lukashenko displayed the aggressive bravado that has defined his authoritarian leadership since he first took power in 1994.

He poured scorn and insults on a newly formed opposition council, accusing it of plotting to “seize power with all the attendant consequences.”

The remarks indicated that the president, often called “Europe’s last dictator,” has no intention of engaging in dialogue with members of the opposition, something that Western leaders have encouraged, and believes he can still prevail, either by force or simply by waiting for his opponents to lose momentum.

Since a huge protest on Sunday, where hundreds of thousands of people expressed their rage over the rigged presidential election on Aug. 9 and the frenzy of police violence in the days that followed it, Mr. Lukashenko has been scrambling to shore up his crumbling pillars of support and ensure that the security services, his last and so far steadfastly loyal base, stick with him.

Mr. Lukashenko’s rejection on Tuesday of any compromise came as the leaders of Germany, France and the European Union spoke by telephone with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and urged him to help ease escalating tensions in Belarus, Russia’s neighbor and a longstanding, if often awkward, ally.

Mr. Putin, according to the Kremlin’s account of conversations, responded by telling the Europeans to stay out of the crisis in Belarus, stressing to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany that “any attempts to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs from the outside leading to a further escalation of the crisis would be unacceptable.”

He delivered much the same message to President Emmanuel Macron of France, telling him that “putting pressure on the Belarusian leadership would be unacceptable.”

Mr. Lukashenko also got some respite from what had been steadily mounting pressure on the street as more than a week of protests continued on Tuesday but on a smaller scale and as some striking workers said they were returning to work because they could not afford to lose their salaries.

Showing no sign he intended to step back from the confrontation, Mr. Lukashenko warned his security officials that the opposition was trying to “lull” them into letting down their guard, and he threatened to take “adequate measures” against members of the so-called Coordination Council, a body formed on Tuesday to unite and streamline the actions of various anti-government activists and groups.

He reviled members of the council, who include Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarus writer who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, as “wild Nazis” and “former tricksters.”

Mr. Lukashenko’s remarks to his security council were broadcast on state television and reported by the official news agency, Belta.

In what appeared to be an effort to win more robust support for his staying in power from Mr. Putin, who has so far expressed only lukewarm backing, Mr. Lukashenko claimed that this opposition council intended to close the Belarus border with Russia, apply for membership in NATO and the European Union, and initiate a “creeping” process of banning the Russian language, which is spoken by most Belarusians. Such actions would not only alienate Russia but also many Belarussians

Mr. Lukashenko’s description of the opposition’s program, however, had no basis in fact since the council has so far set no policy agenda — other than calling for the president to step down and to allow a new election — and will not meet to discuss its plans until Wednesday. At a news conference on Tuesday night, members of the council, which includes more than 50 prominent cultural and public figures, still expressed hope that Mr. Lukashenko would be open to negotiations.

Pavel P. Latushko, a former culture minister, said that Mr. Lukashenko’s tirade against the council is “a confirmation that we are important to society.” Mr. Latushko, who was fired from his post as director of the country’s main national drama theater on Monday for his criticism of the government, warned that Mr. Lukashenko, who unleashed vicious police violence on protesters last week, could again resort to force. He asked European countries and Russia to guarantee the opposition’s security.

“This can be the beginning of a negotiation process,” he said of the council.

So far, however, Mr. Lukashenko has resisted all calls for reconciliation. On Tuesday, he awarded medals to more than 300 members of his security service, which have been accused of using torture against hundreds of the more than 6,000 protesters detained during violent clashes with the police last week.

An order awarding the medals, signed last Thursday after four days of brutal beatings and arrests by the police, said members of the law enforcement system had shown “impeccable service” and “exemplary performance of official duties.” Two protesters have died and hundreds injured since the election results were announced on Aug 9.

After some of the tortured protesters were released and spoke of their ordeals, sending shock waves through society, including groups typically loyal to the president, like workers in state factories, riot police officers were taken off the streets.

Hundreds of protesters on Tuesday came to the jail holding Sergei Tikhanovsky, the husband of Mr. Lukashenko’s main opponent in the presidential election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. A popular video blogger who planned to run himself in the presidential election, Mr. Tikhanovsky was arrested, along with a second would-be presidential candidate, to prevent him from competing against Mr. Lukashenko. A third would-be candidate fled to Russia to avoid arrest.


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