This doesn’t sound like a man who’s going to go quietly. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko warned protesters Monday that he will not give in to their demands for a new presidential election—unless they assassinate him.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the capital city of Minsk over the weekend to protest against the disputed elections held earlier this month. Protesters have been infuriated by alleged poll-rigging and police violence at the ensuing protests, but Lukashenko has defied any suggestion that the vote could be re-run.
“We held elections already. Until you kill me, there will be no other elections,” he was quoted by Belarusian media as saying during a visit to a tractor plant Monday morning. “You should never expect me to do something under pressure... They [new elections] won’t happen.”
Lukashenko did appear to suggest that he would consider some kind of constitutional reform or even power-sharing but insisted his hand would not be forced by the protests.
The man known as Europe’s last dictator also reportedly told the workers that protesters had been tortured over the past week because they had attacked police.
As the president spoke to what he must have thought would be a friendly audience, the workers chanted “Leave,” and heckled him. Lukashenko, in the midst of an unprecedented public humiliation, eventually told the crowd he had finished and they could now shout, as he turned and stormed off stage.
Lukashenko’s incendiary comments came after reports over the weekend that he had appealed to Vladimir Putin for help in saving his 26-year presidency. In calls to the Kremlin on Saturday and Sunday, he reportedly begged for assurance that Russia would help out with military assistance against unspecified external threats.
The Kremlin later confirmed that Moscow would help in line with its collective military pact. However, Putin has not yet publicly backed Lukashenko, as the Russian president apparently waits to see how the protests and labor strikes play out this week and whether Lukashenko’s position becomes completely untenable.
Kremlin-watchers believe Lukashenko remaining in power but in a diminished capacity is Putin’s favored outcome.
The protests are showing no signs of slowing down. On Monday, state television staff walked out in protest against censorship and the election results. A bizarre state TV broadcast that went out early Monday morning showed nothing but empty news desks.
The main challenger in the disputed presidential election released a new video Monday morning to say that she was prepared to take over the country’s leadership after the wave of protests.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who left for Lithuania after she publicly denounced the contested election results, only stood for election after other candidates, including her husband, were jailed.
She reportedly said, “I did not want to be a politician. But fate decreed that I'd find myself on the frontline of a confrontation against arbitrary rule and injustice... I am ready to take responsibility and act as a national leader during this period.”