Belarus leader: Ready to share power, but not under pressure

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he would be willing to share power and change the constitution, but that he was not prepared to do so under pressure from protesters, according to Belta news agency.

Lukashenko on Monday said work was already under way on possible changes to the constitution that could redistribute power, Belta reported.

The embattled leader made the remarks at a tractor plant in Minsk where he also told workers that there would be no new presidential election after a disputed August 9 vote.

“We held elections already. Until you kill me, there will be no other elections,” he was quoted by the media outlet as saying.

Nearly 5,000 workers from the Minsk Tractor Works plant, which has been on strike since Monday morning, marched down the streets, demanding that Lukashenko step down and cede his post to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leading opposition candidate.

The official results of the August 9 vote gave Lukashenko 80 percent of the votes and Tikhanovskaya only 10 percent, but the opposition claimed the vote was rigged.

“Lukashenko is a former president, he needs to go,” Sergei Dylevsky, the leader of the protest at the Minsk Tractor Works plant, told The The Associated Press news agency on Monday. “Sveta (Tikhanovskaya) is our president, legitimate and elected by the people.”

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, entered the race after her husband – who planned to run himself – was jailed in Belarus. She managed to galvanise nationwide support, drawing tens of thousands to her campaign rallies.

Large-scale protests against the vote results continued even after she left the country for Lithuania last week, a move her campaign said was made under duress.

The protests have posed the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule of the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million.

Belarusian authorities initially tried to suppress the rallies, arresting almost 7,000 people in the first days of the protests.

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