Belarus protests: Embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko hints he may quit

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko has hinted he may be prepared to leave power, after months of protests against his disputed re-election in August.

Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled for 26 years, said he supported changing the constitution to considerably weaken the role of any future president.

He said he would “not be president” after this – but gave no timescale.

On Thursday, Russia – Mr Lukashenko’s key backer – again urged him to press ahead with reform.

That message was delivered by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his visit to the Belarusian capital Minsk.

Belarusian opposition leaders – who say the 9 August presidential election was rigged – dismissed Mr Lukahenko’s comments as a mere stalling tactic. They have been pushing for the authoritarian leader to resign immediately.

A number of leading opposition figures have been detained, while others – like Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – have been forced to go into exile.

Belarusian police have been accused of brutality during the mass street protests in the former Soviet republic.

What did Lukashenko say?

On Friday, Mr Lukashenko, 66, said the country’s constitution should be reformed to reduce the considerable powers of the presidency.

Handing the current system to an “unknown”, as he put it, would spell trouble.

And he stressed that this proposed reform was not for him, personally, as he would not be president under the new system.

But Mr Lukashenko is now under pressure from his closest ally, too.

In Minsk, Mr Lavrov reminded him that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “repeatedly stressed” his desire to see constitutional reform in Belarus.

So this seems like a nod of consent from Alexander Lukashenko, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Moscow says. It looks like a sign that he got the hint, and is ready to map his own path out of power.

But Mr Lukashenko has proven to be highly unpredictable in his rule, and perfectly capable of a U-turn, should that suit him, our correspondent adds.

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