Belarus strongman says could call early presidential elections
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has faced the biggest protests of his 26-year rule after disputed presidential polls, said Wednesday that he did not rule out calling early elections but it was too soon to set a date.
Unprecedented demonstrations broke out after Lukashenko claimed to have defeated political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and won re-election with 80 percent of the vote in the August 9 ballot.
In an interview with Russian state media broadcast on Wednesday, Lukashenko said: "I am inclined to conduct an early presidential election. I do not rule this out.
"I am saying this for the first time," he noted.
The opposition has urged Lukashenko to acknowledge defeat and step down so that fresh elections can be held according to international standards.
His security services have hit back with waves of arrests and deadly violence against protesters and a campaign of intimidation and expulsions against opposition leaders.
The president said it was too early to commit to an exact timetable for early polls, adding that any election should take place after the constitutional reforms he has proposed.
Tikhanovskaya has criticised Lukashenko's plan to change the constitution as a ploy to keep him in power.
He is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in the next few weeks in Moscow and said any further moves to integrate the two countries should be based "on an equal footing".
Russia and Belarus have formed a "union state" linking their economies and militaries. Moscow has recently called for tighter integration but Lukashenko in the past has ruled out outright unification.
"We are sovereign independent countries," he told Russian reporters.