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Belarus' president says Western states are trying to overthrow him

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By Daniel Bellamy with AFP
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Belarus' president says Western states are trying to overthrow him
Copyright  Sergei Shelega/BelTA
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Belarus’s authoritarian ruler has accused Germany and the United States, along with neighbouring Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland, of trying to remove him from power.

Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, said that "terrorist sleeper cells" had been exposed and had already attacked a Russian military installation.

Lukashenko also closed the border with Ukraine on Friday, arguing that weapons were being smuggled across it to enact "forcible regime change."

"They’ll try to lead our people, our country to it," he said at a ceremony marking 30 years since Belarus gained its independence from the Soviet Union.

"The coordinators are Lithuania, Poland, the US, Ukraine and Germany."

It comes as Western nations target key sectors of the struggling Belarusian economy with sanctions to punish the Lukashenko regime for a crackdown on protests and the interception of a Ryanair flight in May that was carrying a prominent dissident and journalist.

Lukashenko said he planned confront German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the plot to remove him from power.

He said that the sleeper cells tried to target a Russian naval communication centre near the Belarusian town of Vileyka located around 100 kilometres northwest of the capital Minsk.

He added that he had discussed the incident with Russian President Vladimir Putin "in the most serious manner.

"You understand the result of this discussion. All participants of the terror act - including those who organised and carried it out - were found and arrested within two days."

Franak Viacorka, a senior advisor to Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, suggested that Lukashenko's latest outburst did not bode well for foreigners and he might be "looking for a pretext to crackdown on diplomats".

He also alleged that unidentified assailants sought to kill a state television personality, Grigory Azarenok, charging that "last night" they wanted to kidnap him and "cut off his tongue."

Since an election last August, Belarus has been in the grip of a political crisis that erupted after Lukashenko secured a sixth term as president.

The opposition says the election was rigged but authorities imposed an intense crackdown in which several people died and thousands were arrested.

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

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

In June, the West imposed sanctions on key sectors of the Belarus economy, ratcheting up pressure on the regime.

In response to the latest round of Western sanctions, Minsk said it was suspending its participation in the Eastern Partnership, an initiative to boost ties between the EU and its ex-Soviet neighbours.