Belarus: Opposition urges president to negotiate 'to save nation'

Belarussian opposition leaders have urged the authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to negotiate with them, saying it was the only way to save their country from Russia.

"If we want Belarus to remain free, we should deal with things now. In two or three years' time it could be too late", warned former presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich in an appeal to Lukashenko published in the Polish newspaper Dziennik.

"If gas prices go up, that will be enough. It will mean the end of Belarus. We would fall completely into dependence on Russia. We need to meet to agree how to save our country", he wrote, alongside three fellow opposition heavyweights.

Vintsuk Vyachorka, of the Belarussian Popular Front, said the four leaders were "calling for a compromise that will save Belarus from Russia".

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, three years after the country became independent when the Soviet Union broke up, and is dubbed "Europe's last dictator" in some Western capitals because of a human rights record that includes severe restrictions on the opposition.

Relations between Minsk and its former master Moscow were long close, but have slid over the past two years after Russia raised gas prices.

Until then, Belarus had benefited from special prices, a form of support for Lukashenko's regime, and the increases have put Minsk under pressure.



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