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'Guilty of defending my country': Lukashenko hits out at Olympic ban

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he is not guilty of anything.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he is not guilty of anything.   -   Copyright  Maxim Guchek/BelTA Pool Photo via AP
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Alexander Lukashenko has hit back over his Olympic Games ban.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended Belarus' president on Monday "from all IOC events and activities, including the Olympic Games" because of "political discrimination" against the country's athletes.

It said the current leadership of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee (NOC), which Lukashenko chairs, "has not adequately protected athletes".

"This is contrary to the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter and therefore seriously affects the reputation of the Olympic movement,'' IOC President Thomas Bach said during an online news conference.

Lukashenko hit back on Tuesday, saying that he would "go to court", according to the official agency Belta.

"They say what I am guilty of is defending my country," he added.

NOC has also denounced the sanctions as "biased" and has stated that politics should not interfere with sport.

"We see this decision as politically motivated, intended to put pressure on the NOC's management," the organisation said in a statement.

In August, more than 300 high-level sportsmen and women wrote an open letter criticising President Lukashenko in the wake of the country's disputed election result.

The group, which included several Olympic medallists and members of national teams, also called for an end to police violence and the release of "political" prisoners. A number of signatories also promised that they would show solidarity if one of them faced reprisals, "even the possible refusal to compete for the national team".

Belarus has been gripped by an unprecedented wave of ongoing opposition demonstrations against President Lukashenko's regime.

In early October, the Olympic body had expressed concern about multiple alerts of Belarusian athletes claiming to be persecuted because of their political opinions.

President Lukashenko's suspension from next year's Games in Tokyo does not affect Belarusian athletes and their right to compete under their own flag. The IOC will also continue to help fund Belarus athletes preparing by paying scholarship money directly to them, as opposed to the NOC.

But the country does risk its position as co-host of the 2021 world championship in men's ice hockey, and Thomas Bach said the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) would discuss the matter in the coming days.

The other co-host Latvia has publicly distanced itself from working with Belarus since the disputed election.

Lukashenko was previously unable to attend the 2012 Olympics in London because of a European Union visa ban after a previous crackdown that followed a disputed election.