Trump says closely following ‘terrible situation’ in Belarus

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Donald Trump said Monday the United States was following events “very closely” in Belarus, the former Soviet nation where pressure has been building on strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko to step down over a disputed election.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to condemn Lukashenko’s recent election win and a violent crackdown on protesters by riot police.

Trump said it was a “terrible situation,” adding: “We will be following it very closely.”

Washington has already called for Lukashenko to open talks with civil society.

European Union leaders will hold emergency video talks on Wednesday on the crisis after Russia said it was ready to provide military help to Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years.

On Monday, Lukashenko was confronted by workers at a state-run factory who shouted him down with chants of “Leave!” as he tried to give a speech.

Visibly angry, he walked off the stage, saying: “Thank you, I have said everything.”

More than 100,000 people took part in a “March for Freedom” in the capital Minsk on Sunday following calls from main opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya for continued demonstrations.

Lukashenko has defied calls to stand down after the August 9 election that saw him imprison his closest rivals and shun independent observers.

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