Belarus leader entreats Putin for support as crackdown fails to dispel protests

(Reuters) – Alexander Lukashenko flew to Russia on Monday to entreat Vladimir Putin for support, as a crackdown on the opposition in Belarus showed no sign of dispelling mass demonstrations against the veteran leader’s rule.

Belarusian state media showed Lukashenko disembarking from his plane in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Putin often hosts visiting dignitaries.

More than 100,000 people defied increasingly aggressive Belarusian security forces on Sunday to take to the streets for the fifth straight weekend, demanding Lukashenko step down and taunting him with chants of “You’re a rat!”

Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, calls the protests a Western plot and has placed his fate in Moscow’s hands, requesting economic support, and potentially military aid.

The opposition accuses Lukashenko of rigging victory in an election last month, which he denies. Since then, thousands of people have been arrested and nearly all the opposition’s key leaders have been jailed, deported or forced into exile.

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