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Putin says ‘foreign forces’ behind Belarusian opposition, points to constitutional reform as way for Lukashenko to end unrest

Putin says ‘foreign forces’ behind Belarusian opposition, points to constitutional reform as way for Lukashenko to end unrest
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that protests in Belarus have been stirred up from outside the country, adding that embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko has agreed to step down once a new constitution is in place.

Taking questions from journalists as part of his annual end-of-year press conference, Putin claimed that the opposition in the former Soviet Republic is “supported by foreign forces.” He added that “nothing good can come up from what is forced from abroad.”

He reminded those present that Lukashenko has begun work on a new national constitution. The Belarusian leader had previously pledged that he would stand down once the document is ratified, saying that a transition of power before then would be “a disaster.”

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However, the country’s opposition has cast doubt over whether this is a legitimate promise, or merely a delaying tactic. Speaking to NATO-backed lobby group the Atlantic Council at the start of December, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya dismissed the move as disingenuous. “I don’t think that Lukashenko will step down voluntarily,” she said. “By talking about the new constitution, Lukashenko attempts to buy himself time to justify his staying in power. All his promises are fake. The rhetoric is used to deceive the West.”

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in cities across the Belarus since August, after Lukashenko claimed victory in the country’s presidential election and began his sixth term in office. Activists and many international organizations say the poll was rigged in his favor, and are calling for a fresh vote.

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