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President of Belarus accuses Russia of lying, warns of revolution plot

In a fiery address to the nation as early voting began in an election in which he is seeking to extend his 26-year rule, Lukashenko said he would protect Belarus from opponents he portrayed as wreckers controlled by “puppet masters” abroad.

He faces his toughest challenge for years in Sunday’s election because of public anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and human rights in the strategically important east European country of 9.5 million.

Before the election there have been mass protests, some of Lukashenko’s opponents have been arrested on what they call trumped-up charges and Minsk has said it suspects the security contractors arrested this month were preparing “terrorist acts”.

Russia has said the detained men were transiting Belarus to a third country, but Lukashenko said those assertions were “all lies”.

“These people have given testimony and said they were sent specially to Belarus. Their order was to wait (for further instructions),” he said.

Lukashenko said Belarus had information about a second group of fighters deployed in the south of the country. He cited no evidence but said they would be hunted down.

Addressing Russia, he said: “Stop lying. You have already disgraced yourselves.”

There was no immediate reaction from Moscow, which has in the past dismissed Lukashenko’s criticisms as emotional and has demanded the security contractors’ release.

Russia, whose oil exports run through Belarus to the West and has long regarded the country as a buffer zone against NATO, is watching the outcome of events in the country closely, as is the West which has tried to lure Minsk from Moscow’s orbit.

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