MINSK -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has openly warned that there will be no "Maidan" following mass rallies in Minsk and other towns and cities supporting potential opposition presidential candidates.
Lukashenka used the word Maidan, which became a symbol of pro-European antigovernment protests around the former Soviet Union after protests on the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in 2014 toppled Russia-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
The Belarusian leader said during a June 1 meeting with the chief of the Belarusian KGB, Valery Vakulchyk, that the rallies a day earlier to collect signatures for potential independent and opposition presidential candidates necessary for registration with election authorities were organized by foreign forces, calling the demonstrations "winds blown from different sides to our Belarusian land."
"We absolutely know the goals of those wind-blowers. They want to organize a little Maidan before or during the presidential poll...I want at this meeting to warn you and all those who hear me now, all those ‘maidanized’ ones. There will be no Maidans in Belarus," Lukashenka said.
In his usual flamboyant style, Lukashenka hinted that the rallies pose a threat to Belarusian sovereignty and independence, which must be "defended by the army, the KGB, and all the people."
"We are not going to muzzle anyone. There are places in Minsk and other cities allocated for public discussions. I think there are six such places in Minsk. Our thing is to control that, so that nothing could go over the top. There are six sites in Minsk, so go and debate there. But the KGB and police must, by all means, secure law and order," Lukashenka said, referring to six places in the city designated as areas where public discussions may take place.
"People can go there and discuss issues. If they want to do that in the kitchen, please do so," Lukashenka added, "So that they did not create problems for others."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned earlier this month that authorities in Belarus have intensified their crackdown on protesters, opposition bloggers, journalists, and other government critics with a "new wave of arbitrary arrests" ahead of the election scheduled for August 9.
More than 1,000 demonstrators joined together in Minsk on May 24 to oppose another term for Lukashenka in one of the biggest protests of the year in the country of around 9 million.
Critics of Lukashenka say his government has shown little tolerance for dissent and independent media.
He has ruled the country since 1994 and is currently serving his fifth presidential term. Belarus abolished presidential term limits in 2004.
The country has been the target of U.S. and EU sanctions over its poor rights record and lack of fair elections, but Belarus and the West have recently sought to mend ties to reduce Russia’s influence in the country.
Lukashenka Warns No 'Maidan' Following Mass Rallies Supporting Opposition