Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has attacked his reformist political opponents ahead of the country's August 9 presidential election, accusing them of being well-paid 'foreign agents' who are attempting to return Belarus to the 'chaos' of the 1990s.
Lukashenka rejected calls from his opponents to revert to the 1994 version of the Belarusian constitution, which limited anyone from serving as the country's president to a maximum of two terms.
'Those who demand changes, reforms, and the return of the old constitution just want the return of the chaotic 1990s,' Lukashenka told lawmakers from both chambers of parliament who were part of an audience gathered at the Palace of the Republic in Minsk on August 4. 'Do not believe those who promise a golden hill.'
'By returning the constitution of 1994 we would restore anarchy,' said Lukashenka, who had himself been elected president under that constitution.
'Returning to the 1994 constitution would be a gift to criminals. We won't return to the wild 1990s,' he said.
'Billions are thrown to destabilize Belarus. So, it is impossible for Belarusians to be against Lukashenka. All those who are against Lukashenka are foreign agents,' Lukashenka said, without elaborating.
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Western diplomats have dubbed Belarus as Europe's last dictatorship due to what opponents and activists say has been decades of undemocratic rule.
Lukashenka's 26 years of authoritarian rule look increasingly vulnerable ahead of the August 9 election.
However, most analysts say he will likely win through a combination of fraud and repression against an energized opposition.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have attended daily rallies in recent weeks in support of presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old political novice backed by would-be presidential candidates who've been disqualified from running.
'Unfair methods are used to involve our youth into protest actions,' Lukashenka said. 'No one is going to steal your votes.'
Lukashenka called reforms demanded by the opposition 'a gift to crime and criminal business,' adding that economic reforms and privatization are not necessary and are dangerous.
In recent weeks, Lukashenka has been meeting with Interior Ministry officials and inspecting the military, sending an signal that he may order a crackdown by security forces to quell unrest against his increasingly unpopular rule.
'I call on all parents and teachers to keep our youth from bad deeds.... So that they would not follow the puppet masters,' he told parliament.
Lukashenka also said the youth in Belarus are 'shamelessly used' for political purposes.
Lukashenka also urged the opposition to stay out of the way and allow his government to bring prosperity to the country.
'Do not stay in the way if you do not know what to do. Let us take care of the country. In two-three years we will rectify the situation.'
Lukashenka's government has alleged that 33 mercenaries from the private Russian firm Vagner group who were detained last month in Belarus were trying to destabilize Belarus ahead of the election.
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The Kremlin has rejected the accusations, saying that the men were detained while in transit to Istanbul before flying to 'a third country.'
But Lukashenka has lashed out at Moscow, accusing it of lying about the contractors' presence in Belarus. He has said that unnamed forces were trying to stir a revolt, but they would fail.
'They lied about Istanbul, Africa, and Latin America. They were waiting for the signal. Why did they decide to travel through Belarus, and not from Crimea or Novorossiisk? They told us everything! Stop lying! We know everything,' Lukashenka said.
'Their destination was not Istanbul or Venezuela, it was Belarus.... Do not believe in those lies,' Lukashenka told the gathering in Minsk on August 4.
The lead up to the August 9 vote has been marred by dubious disqualifications and an unprecedented scale of detentions and other persecution against a backdrop of a pandemic and pro-democracy protests.
More than 1,100 people have been arrested since campaigning began, including politicians, organizers, and journalists.
Authorities have barred aspiring candidates like Valer Tsapkala and popular vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, the husband of Tsikhanouskaya.
Lukashenka, in his address, slighted Tsikhanouskaya, Maryya Kalesnikava, a coordinator of the campaign of another excluded presidential aspirant, and the wife of Tsapkala, Veranika Tsapkala, by referring to them as 'poor girls,' unaware of what alleged political operatives had in mind for them.
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036