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24 May, 2023 05:41

Lukashenko laughs off illness rumors

The 68-year-old president reassured Belarusian officials they will have to “suffer with me for a very long time”
Lukashenko laughs off illness rumors

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed rumors that he is severely ill, telling officials that he contracted a common cold and is “not going to die.” Speculation about the leader’s health has swirled for weeks, after he appeared to be unwell at the May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow.

Lukashenko addressed the claims during a lengthy government meeting about healthcare on Tuesday, saying “If someone thinks I'm going to die, calm down.”

“This is nothing more than idle speculation in messengers and Telegram channels. Adenovirus or whatever it was? Adenovirus. Nothing. It can be treated in three days,” he said. “But since I didn't have the opportunity to be treated, all this has accumulated… I'm not going to die, guys. You will suffer with me for a very long time.”

Belarusian opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya helped to fuel the rumors about the president’s health earlier this month. After Lukashenko did not appear in public for one week in the wake of the Victory Day march in the Russian capital, she urged her supporters to be “well prepared for every scenario” in the event he is severely ill, apparently hoping for regime change. 

A vocal critic of Lukashenko, Tikhanovskaya fled Belarus in 2020 during a bout of riots and civil unrest following that year’s presidential election, and has since claimed she leads a government in exile.

Soon after the Western-backed opposition activist weighed in on Lukashenko’s purported illness, a state-affiliated news outlet released a photo of the president, in an apparent bid to dispel the gossip. However, the claims did not die down, and speculation was again stoked when the leader missed an annual ceremony in Minsk on May 14, with some unconfirmed reports even stating he was hospitalized.

Under the Belarusian constitution, if the president were incapacitated or unable to fulfill his official duties, his role would be temporarily passed on to the speaker of the Council of the Republic – the country’s upper house of parliament – until another round of elections could be held. Natalya Kochanova, Lukashenko’s former chief of staff and a close ally to the president, currently holds the speaker position.