Belarus' Lukashenko Vows to Stop Takeover


Associated Press Writer

MINSK, Belarus (AP) - Authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, facing the prospect of mass protests after this weekend's election, vowed Friday that his opponents would not be able to seize power by force.

Lukashenkos's main opponents have called on supporters to hold demonstrations if they consider the results of Sunday's vote to be fraudulent. Authorities have banned any such gatherings, setting up the possibility of violent confrontations between protesters and police.

Similar protests in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan - ex-Soviet republics like Belarus - helped bring opposition leaders to power over the past two years. Lukashenko, shunned by the West which has dubbed him Europe's last dictator, has repeatedly alleged that the opposition to his hardline rule is plotting similar moves.

``I guarantee that an overthrow of the government in our country will not take place. There will not be a forceful seizure of institutions or the blocking of squares and streets,'' Lukashenko said in a nationally televised address. ``Today everything is being done to prevent even the smallest threat to the security of the people.''

Lukashenko, who is seeking re-election to a third term, made the comments following an array of allegations that plans to forcefully unseat him have been discovered. Many of the allegations involve Georgians, whose country's ``Rose Revolution'' of 2003 inspired later protests in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Nine Georgian lawmakers who were to join an international elections monitoring mission were detained at the Belarusian capital's airport, and an official said Friday they would be sent back to Georgia. The lawmakers were to have been part of the monitoring mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

A spokesman for the Belarusian border guards, Vasily Kiptenko, said they were detained Thursday because ``they were not desirable on our territory.''

Also Friday, the Belarusian KGB said it had arrested a Georgian citizen on suspicion of funding the opposition.

The KGB on Thursday accused a Georgian lawmaker and employees of Georgian embassies in neighboring countries of plotting subversive actions during Sunday's vote.

Lukashenko has increasingly tightened his grip on the country since taking office in 1994, but many Belarusians credit him with improving the economy and bringing stability.

The government has banned election day demonstrations, and KGB chief Stepan Sukhorenko has warned that any protesters Sunday could be charged with terrorism. Lukashenko vowed swift action against any foreigner trying to sow chaos.

``God forbid one of them should try to do something in our country. We will twist his head off immediately - like a duckling's,'' he said in comments broadcast on television.

Responding to a warning from Belarus' foreign minister that the opposition and its foreign supporters would bear responsibility for any election violence, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said any violence against peaceful protests ``would meet with a strong international reaction.''

Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, who led freedom movements that helped topple communist regimes in Poland and Czechoslovakia, on Friday lambasted Belarus' government as the ``last undemocratic regime'' in Europe.