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25 Apr, 2020 13:32

'Bravo!' Russian MMA star Sergei Kharitonov hails Belarusian president Lukashenko as 'best coronavirus expert on the planet'

'Bravo!' Russian MMA star Sergei Kharitonov hails Belarusian president Lukashenko as 'best coronavirus expert on the planet'

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, known for his promotion of vodka, sport and saunas as methods of combating Covid-19, has been enthusiastically backed by heavyweight Bellator competitor Sergei 'Paratrooper' Kharitonov.

The long-serving leader has attracted headlines and scientific dismay across the world by suggesting that alcohol and farming are among the best ways to manage the virus that has ravaged Europe, allowing his country to carry on as usual while almost the entire continent has gone into lockdown in a bid to protect citizens from the deadly disease.

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Cases of COVID-19 in Belarus have more than doubled in a week to reach more than 7,000, but Lukashenko has insisted that none of the country's deaths will be recorded solely due to the virus – and his view that the pandemic is being needlessly allowed to threaten the global economy has won an admirer in veteran fighter Kharitonov.

Having encouraged his audience of nearly 77,000 to stay healthy and beat coronavirus on Instagram, Kharitonov published a video of a speech and lauded Lukashenko as: "The most adequate coronavirus expert on this planet!!! Bravo!!"

The former kickboxing world champion, who enjoyed a trip to Minsk when he knocked out opponent Fernando Rodriguez Jr in the second round of the World Total Kombat Federation 5 card in February, added: "I fought in Belarus on February 23 and many of my friends live there.

"I go there 10 times a year. As in any country, there are pros and cons, but in this case the president of Belarus is right. I am not imposing my opinions on anyone."

Kharitonov's training has been restricted by the lockdown imposed in his native Moscow, where a public stay-at-home order was issued at the end of March as the national healthcare system continues to attempt to deal with an escalating number of infections.

In one video post, Kharitonov portrays himself on a hospital ward where intravenous drips supply vodka and nurses dressed in ring girl-style attire serve patients food.

The clip shows Kharitonov at a bar, on a train and in a prison cell as part of a band, as well as paying tribute to Vladimir Lenin by showing an actor playing the former Soviet Union premier in one of the ward beds.

He also repeated a coronavirus conspiracy theory suggested by Russian former world boxing champion Sergey Kovalev, questioning the truth of the pandemic while showing healthcare practitioners in protective clothing inside a hospital.

Despite being urged to introduce new safety measures by the World Health Organization, Lukashenko has allowed mass civic and religious gatherings to continue, as well as high-profile football and ice hockey fixtures.

Kharitonov's endorsement of Lukashenko's approach drew a mixed response from fans.

"You were not sick and did not die from this virus, so it seems to you that this is all garbage," replied one.

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"But when you get sick your opinion will be different."

Kharitonov has won 30 of his 39 MMA fights during a varied career, although he lost to Linton Vassell in the headline fight of Bellator 234 in November.

He came close to representing Russia as a boxer at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games and won silver medals for Tajikistan at the Central Asian Games, Asian Amateur Championships and Russian Championships in 2003 and 2004.

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