Belarus security chief alleges coup plot


Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus - The Belarus security chief accused the opposition Thursday of plotting a violent coup against President Alexander Lukashenko with foreign help and warned that protesters demonstrating during Sunday's presidential election will be charged with terrorism.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994 and has been branded "Europe's last dictator" by Western nations, is seeking five more years at the presidential helm after pushing through a referendum scrapping term limits.

The warning by KGB chief Stepan Sukhorenko was the strongest yet against street rallies on election day. Terrorism carries a prison sentence of eight to 15 years, and up to life in prison or the death penalty under aggravated circumstances, Sukhorenko said.

Authorities on Wednesday detained a major opposition party leader and barred three members of an international monitoring mission from the country before the election. Belarus on Tuesday arrested two Swedes who were part of a team of unaccredited election observers and ordered them to leave the country, allegedly for breaking a polling law.

Sweden on Thursday dismissed the upcoming election as a sham.

Opposition leaders have called for peaceful protests if the voting is considered fraudulent.

Sukhorenko said no demonstrations will be tolerated.

"We will not allow the seizure of power under the guise of presidential elections," Sukhorenko told a news conference. "For those who take the risk of going out into the street and try to destabilize the situation, their actions will be qualified as terrorism."

He accused the opposition of plotting to overthrow Lukashenko and showed a video meant to suggest American involvement. He also accused a Georgian lawmaker and employees of Georgian embassies in neighboring Lithuania and Ukraine of plotting subversive actions during Sunday's vote.

"What is occurring is a preparation not for a peaceful protest, as the organizers of the so-called revolution explain it, but for a planned forceful action including the detonation of explosive devices, arson and the active provocation of law enforcement organs to use force," Sukhorenko said.

He said the alleged activities were part of a plot "to seize power on a wave of chaos and confusion."

The main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, denied the allegations and said he has called on his supporters to demonstrate peacefully on a central Minsk square when polls close.

"They're frightening us with the KGB and explosions. This is completely stupid," Milinkevich said at a rally in the city of Borisov. "We will come with flowers and stick them in the shields of the (riot police)."

He claimed Lukashenko lacks support to win a majority of votes and avoid a run-off.

Lukashenko's government has repeatedly accused the opposition of plotting violence, and claimed Western countries and their ex-Soviet allies are working with the opposition toward that aim.

In a video shown at the news conference, a man Sukhorenko claimed was involved in the plot said he had been at a camp in Georgia where terrorist training was provided by members of the former Soviet army and four Arabs, and that two American instructors once visited.

In an on-line question-and-answer session, U.S. Ambassador George Krol said it was "absurd and baseless" to allege that American organizations teach terrorism, and said that "Belarusians have the right to peacefully express their opinion."

The European Union warned it could broaden travel restrictions against Belarus officials if authorities continued a clampdown on opposition figures and election observers before the vote.