Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday ordered his Defence Minister to “take the strictest measures” to defend the territorial integrity of the country, rocked by protests since the disputed presidential election of 9 August.
Lukashenko, in power for 26 years now, on Saturday inspected troops deployed in the western town of Grodno, near the Polish border, according to a press release published on Telegram by the Belarus presidency.
At the military base in Grodno, he denounced the protest movement, which he described as instigated “from outside”.
“I am ordering the Defence Minister (…) to defend, above all, the western pearl of Belarus, whose centre is Grodno, and to take the strictest measures to defend our country’s territorial integrity,” he said.
His remarks came ahead of vast military exercises to be held in the Grodno area by the Belarus armed forces between 28 and 31 August.
Lukashenko, who claims to have won the election with 80% of the votes, faces a broad protest movement, bigger than any ever seen in the former Soviet republic.
The opposition has denounced the election as fraudulent and organises daily protest demonstrations in the country. Earlier this week, it formed a “coordination council” aimed at promoting the political transition after the election, but, on Thursday, the authorities initiated legal action against it for “violating national security.”
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has sought refuge in Lithuania, said on Friday that the people of Belarus “will never accept the current leadership.”
For his part, Lukashenko said on Friday that he would “resolve the problem” of the protest movement.