Lukashenko claims to have uncovered “terrorist sleeper cells” linked to the West in Belarus

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Moscow (AFP)

Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko alleged on Friday that the authorities had uncovered “terrorist sleeper cells” that he claimed are linked to Germany, the United States, Ukraine and other countries.

The latest volley of eyebrow-raising allegations came after the West targeted key sectors of the troubled Belarusian economy with sanctions to punish the Lukashenko regime for cracking down on dissidents and intercepting a Ryanair plane in May.

“Today, terrorist ‘sleeping cells’, so-called self-defense units, have been uncovered,” announced Lukashenko at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of independence in post-Soviet Belarus.

“The goal of these cells is a violent regime change on day X. You yourself do not yet know when that day will come: it is necessary to lead our people there,” said Lukashenko in a comment published by his office.

He claimed that Germany, the US, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania were involved in their work.

“Today we completed a large-scale anti-terrorist operation,” said Lukashenko, adding that the Belarusian authorities would grapple with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Lukashenko also claimed that the “sleeping cells” attempted to attack a Russian naval communications center near the Belarusian city of Vileyka, about 100 kilometers northwest of the capital Minsk, and discussed the incident with President Vladimir Putin.

“We discussed this problem in the most serious way possible,” said the Belarusian head of state.

“You understand the outcome of this discussion. All those involved in the terrorist act – including those who organized and carried out it – were found and arrested within two days.”

– ‘Insane’ –

Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said Lukashenko’s recent outbreak bodes ill for foreigners and that he may be looking for an excuse to crack down on diplomats.

“Insane,” he tweeted.

The 66-year-old leader also said he had ordered officials to seal the country’s border with pro-western Ukraine to prevent “a huge amount of weapons” from entering Belarus.

He also alleged that unidentified assailants attempted to kill a state television personality, Grigory Azarenok, and accused of trying to kidnap him “last night” and “cut off his tongue.”

Belarus has been in a political crisis since last August’s elections that erupted after Lukashenko secured his sixth term as president.

The opposition says the election was rigged, but the authorities imposed a crackdown that killed several people and arrested thousands.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, sparked international outrage when he dispatched a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane from Greece to Lithuania in May.

When the plane had to land in Minsk, Belarus arrested the dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend on board.

In June, the West imposed sanctions on key sectors of the Belarusian economy, increasing pressure on the regime.

In response to the recent round of Western sanctions, Minsk announced that it would suspend its participation in the Eastern Partnership, an initiative to strengthen relations between the EU and its former Soviet neighbors.

Since the onset of the crisis, Lukashenko and state television have made a number of imaginative remarks to the Belarusian opposition and even to their ally Russia.

Lukashenko made headlines last year when he claimed his security forces intercepted German calls showing that the poisoning of Putin’s enemy Alexei Navalny with a Soviet-era novichok nerve gas had been faked.

Belarusian television broadcast the “interception” in which Mike in Warsaw and Nick in Berlin discuss Navalny’s materials and describe Lukashenko as a “tough nut”.

Lukashenko also raised his eyebrows at the height of the demonstrations last year when he waved an assault rifle and made his teenage son Nikolai appear next to him in a bulletproof vest while he was also carrying a gun.

He accused modern Germany of Nazism on the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR last month.

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