MOSCOW – Belarus' authoritarian leader on Wednesday sought to disparage protesters demanding his resignation for a sixth straight week following a disputed election by accusing the United States of fomenting the unrest.
In a long speech to top officials, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ranted against the alleged U.S.-led plan to destabilize the country and claimed that American allies in Europe have participated in the effort that took years to prepare, part of his attempts to cast the opposition as Western stooges.
Lukashenko didn't provide evidence to back his claim that the U.S. had any involvement in the demonstrations.
His main challenger in the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, dismissed his comments as an attempt to divert public attention from rigging the vote and the violent crackdown on protests.
“There is just one reason behind the protests in Belarus and it's known to everyone: Lukashenko has lost the vote, but he doesn’t want to step down,” Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press in a written comment. “People have denied Lukashenko their trust and support and demand that he leave.”
Protesters in Belarus have flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital and other cities denouncing Lukashenko's landslide reelection in the Aug. 9 vote as rigged. The huge demonstrations were driven by frustration with the Belarusian strongman's 26-year iron-fist rule, his cavalier response to the coronavirus and the worsening economy.
The U.S. and the European Union have criticized the election as neither free nor fair, and urged Lukashenko to start talks with the opposition — a call he has rejected.
“We had the vote and got the result, period,” Lukashenko said in Wednesday's speech before top officials. “It's time to stop stirring up society.”