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NATO chief says Lukashenko must respect fundamental rights

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday to respect fundamental rights and said it would be unjustified to use the defence alliance as an excuse for a crackdown.

“The regime in Minsk must demonstrate full respect for fundamental rights including freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest,” said Stoltenberg, who is in Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“NATO has no military build up in the region so any attempt to use that an excuse to crack down on peaceful protesters is absolutely unjustified,” he said, adding it was up to the people of Belarus to decide their future. 

Police block an entrance of a church, where protesters hide during a protest rally against the results of the presidential elections, in Minsk, Belarus, 26 August 2020. Opposition in Belarus alleges poll-rigging and police violence at protests following election results claiming that president Lukashenko had won a landslide victory in the 09 August elections. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

Meanwhile, a Russian government plane which is used to carry senior government officials, including the head of the FSB security service, landed in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Wednesday, flight tracking data showed.

This was its second such flight in just over a week. The same plane had made a quick trip to Belarus and back in the early hours of last Wednesday, tracking data showed last week.

The plane’s flights to Belarus, a Russian ally, coincide with waves of protests and strikes over what Belarusian demonstrators say was a rigged presidential election on Aug. 9.

Reuters could not determine who was aboard the Russian government plane, a Tupolev Tu-214, when it landed in Minsk from Moscow on Wednesday evening.

Police gather during a protest rally against the results of the presidential elections, in Minsk, Belarus, 26 August 2020.. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

The Kremlin has said the situation in Belarus is an internal matter which should be resolved by Belarusians themselves and that it did not see the need to help Belarus militarily or otherwise for now.

Attention is focused on how Russia will respond to the biggest political crisis facing an ex-Soviet neighbour since 2014 in Ukraine, when Moscow intervened militarily after a friendly leader was toppled by protests.

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