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Belarusian Leader Accuses West Of Using 'Fifth Column' To Fuel Unrest


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on March 21 accused Western intelligence agencies of backing a "fifth column" in the country that is causing unrest and threatening stability.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the former Soviet republic in recent weeks to protest an unpopular labor law, in the largest antigovernment demonstrations in Belarus in years.

Lukashenka said that "Western funds under the direction of Western security services" are trying to "inflame the situation in Belarus" by backing "hoodlums" who are stirring up the unrest, Belarusian news agencies reported.

Lukashenka vowed that his government would react.

"We can handle this. This is not a problem," he said, adding that the domestic unrest worries him more than the deployment of NATO troops near the Belarusian border.

The protesters are unhappy about government plans to tax what it called "social parasites" -- unemployed people. Protests have continued despite a rare decision by Lukashenka to postpone the measure.

More than 150 of the protesters have been arrested across Belarus since March 1.

Lukashenka, who has been in power for more than two decades, has suppressed opposition and independent media since coming to office in 1994.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and Interfax
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