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Lukashenka Meets With Jailed Belarusian Opposition Leaders

Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Alyaksandr Lukashenka

Belarusian state media have reported that strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with jailed Belarusian opposition leaders in a detention center run by the country's KGB security service -- ostensibly to discuss plans for constitutional reforms.

The meeting saw Lukashenka sit down with political opponents that he has jailed for months in order to talk about his political course ahead.

"I am trying to convince not only your supporters but the whole of society that one needs to look at things more broadly," Lukashenka said in a video excerpt from the meeting that was broadcast by state television.

The European Union and the United States have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president of Belarus after he claimed a landslide victory in an August election that has been widely criticized as fraudulent.

The results have been contested by his main rival, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, as well as opposition figures across the country.

A photo posted by Lukashenka's press service on the Telegram messenger app showed him sitting at an oval table with prisoners who included Viktar Babaryka, a banker once seen as Lukashenka’s toughest rival in the August elections but who was prevented from running and jailed.

Others in the picture include Lilia Vlasova, a lawyer who is a member of the opposition's Coordination Council, and the Belarusian-American political analyst Vitali Shkliarov. All look pale and unsmiling.

Belarusian opposition figures described the visit as a sign of weakness from Lukashenka.

Tsikhanouskaya, who has taken refuge in Lithuania, wrote on social media on October 10 that Lukashenka had "acknowledged the existence of political prisoners whom he used to call criminals." But she said "you can't have dialogue in a prison cell."

Tsikhanouskaya also said she was allowed on October 10 to have her first phone call in four months with her jailed husband, video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski.

Tsikhanouskaya only stood as a presidential candidate against Lukashenka after the jailing of her husband by Belarusian authorities eliminated his possibility of running in the election.

Paval Latushka, a former Belarusian diplomat who became a member of the opposition's Coordination Council, wrote on social media that the October 10 meeting in the detention center "showed we are on the right track.”

Latushka said Lukashenka was "forced to sit down for talks with those he himself put behind bars."

In a brief video excerpt, Lukashenka told the political prisoners: "You can't rewrite the constitution on the street." He was referring to mass demonstrations that have continued across the country since election officials announced a tally showing Lukashenka with about 80 percent of the August vote.

October 10 also saw the latest protest against Lukashenka -- a now regular event in which women hold peaceful marches, often carrying flowers.

With reporting by AFP, TASS, and Interfax
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