Putin lends $2b to Belarus, stands by embattled leader
MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday bestowed a US$1.5 billion (S$2.04 billion) loan on Belarus after its embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko entreated his patron for more support.
A day after more than 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Minsk for the fifth straight weekend to demand his removal, Mr Lukashenko, who has led Russia’s closest ally for 26 years, flew to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to ask Mr Putin for help.
In addition to announcing the loan, the Russian President signalled support for Mr Lukashenko in other ways, saying defence cooperation would continue between the two countries.
Separately, Russian news agencies reported that Moscow was sending paratroopers yesterday for joint exercises.
Mr Putin also backed plans that Mr Lukashenko had previously announced for constitutional reform – which the opposition has dismissed as a stunt to cling to power after an election it says was rigged – and said it was up to Belarusians to resolve the crisis themselves.
Despite increasingly aggressive action from his security forces, Mr Lukashenko has failed to reclaim the streets from demonstrators, who taunted him in the tens of thousands on Sunday with chants of “You’re a rat!”.
Mr Lukashenko calls the demonstrations a Western plot and has placed his fate in Moscow’s hands, requesting economic support and military aid.
Since the Aug 9 presidential election, which he denies rigging, thousands of people have been arrested and nearly all the opposition’s main leaders have been either jailed, deported or forced into exile.
Police said they detained 774 people at Sunday’s protests.
The opposition says it fears Mr Lukashenko could try to sell out Belarusian independence for Mr Putin’s support.
The United Nations human rights chief said yesterday her office was receiving “alarming reports” of the ongoing violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Belarus.
“Reports continue to indicate unnecessary or excessive use of force by law enforcement officials,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told a council meeting in Geneva.
The UN Human Rights Council added further pressure on Belarus yesterday by agreeing to hold an urgent debate on the human rights situation in the country.
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