Lukashenko says Belarusian Olympic defector was “manipulated” | Politics News
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the Belarusian sprinter who defected from the Tokyo Olympics had been “manipulated” by outside forces and would not have fled abroad otherwise.
Defying on the first anniversary of a contested election that extended his rule for decades, he also defended his victory on Monday at an annual press conference, accusing his opponents of plotting a “coup” .
“Today Belarus is in the center of the world’s attention,” Lukashenko said during the hour-long event at the presidential palace in the capital Minsk.
“She wouldn’t do it herself, she was manipulated,” Lukashenko said, referring to Olympic athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya.
It was from Japan, Tokyo that she contacted her friends in Poland and they told her – literally – when you get to the airport, run to a Japanese policeman and shout that those who dropped her off at the airport are KGB agents.
“There was not a single special duty agent in Japan.”
Lukashenko was thrown into the international spotlight again this month after Tsimanouskaya, 24, refused to obey the team’s orders to leave the Tokyo Olympics earlier and return to Belarus.
Claiming that she feared for her safety in her native country, she instead sought refuge in Poland, which granted her and her husband humanitarian visas.
Elections on August 9 last year gave Lukashenko, 66, a sixth term, but was denounced by the political opposition of the former Soviet nation as rigged.
Lukashenko said on Monday that he had won last year’s presidential election fairly and was protecting his country from a violent uprising.
Last year some people “were preparing for a fair election, while others called for … a coup,” he said.
Thousands of people attended anti-government protests after the vote, a move that posed the biggest challenge to the Lukashenko regime since it became president in 1994.
He responded by unleashing a massive crackdown that saw thousands of people arrested and his main opponents jailed or forced into exile abroad.
While protests in the country have since ended, authorities have continued their crackdown on dissent in recent weeks, targeting independent journalists and democracy activists in hundreds of raids.
On Sunday, Belarusians living abroad staged rallies against Lukashenko in European capitals including Kiev, London, Warsaw and Vilnius.
At odds with Western countries that have imposed sanctions on his government, Lukashenko has remained in power thanks to the backing and financial backing of his traditional ally, Russia, which views Belarus as a buffer state against NATO and the United States. European Union.
Sign of new tension, the United Kingdom on Monday imposed sanctions on Belarusian exports of potash and petroleum products in an attempt to put pressure on Lukashenko, who quickly retorted that London should “stifle” the new measures.
So far, Western sanctions have done little to persuade Lukashenko to change course.
He has previously denounced his opponents as foreign cronies and accused the United States and its prominent NATO allies of plotting to overthrow him.
Lukashenko also fought with the European Union after Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair flight over Belarus to land in the capital, Minsk, in May and arrested a Belarusian dissident journalist who was on board.
Separately, EU neighbors Lithuania and Poland accused the Minsk government of staging a migrant crisis on the Belarusian border in retaliation for EU sanctions.
Lukashenko said Lithuania and Poland were to blame.