Russia says military help available as Belarus tension rises


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“NATO troops are at our gates. Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and our native Ukraine are ordering us to hold new elections,” he said, adding that Belarus would “die as a state” if new polls were held.

“I have never betrayed you and will never do so,” he said.

Often emotional in state TV appearances, the 65-year-old leader had already alleged a foreign-backed plot to topple him.

Several thousand people attended the protest. Opposition media channels said Lukashenko, a onetime manager of a Soviet-era collective farm, had bussed people in from other parts of the country and that they were coerced into attending.

Reuters could not independently confirm that.

“The motherland is in danger!” an earlier speaker told the crowd, who chanted: “We are united, indivisible!”

Some of those present held Belarusian national flags and chanted “For Belarus!” or “For Batka!,” Lukashenko’s affectionate nickname, as patriotic music sounded from speakers.

“I’m for Lukashenko,” said Alla Georgievna, 68. “I don’t understand why everyone has risen up against him. We get our pensions and salaries on time thanks to him.”

Russia, which has had a troubled relationship with Lukashenko, is watching closely as Belarus hosts pipelines that carry Russian energy exports to the West and is also viewed by Moscow as a buffer zone against NATO.

The EU is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Belarus in response to the violent crackdown.

Protesters show no signs of backing down.

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