Lukashenko shuffles aides to tighten control

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Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko reshuffled his top government lieutenants Thursday after weeks of protests calling for him to resign.

Belarus has been rocked by weeks of protests after Lukashenko, who has led the country since 1994, won a landslide victory in the August 9 election.

The vote was denounced by EU officials, and forced Lukashenko to look to Moscow for support. Lukashenko and Russia’s president Vladimir Putin are set to meet in Moscow in the next few weeks.

The opposition says that Lukashenko’s main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was the rightful winner and wants new elections. Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the vote, won only about 10% to Lukashenko’s 80%, according to the election committee.

On Thursday, Lukashenko promoted Valery Vakulchik, who led the KGB state security agency, to be the secretary of the presidential Security Council. He replaced Vakulchik with Ivan Tertel, who previously served as head of the State Control Committee.

Observers see the appointments as Lukashenko’s attempt to further tighten control and strengthen his position: “It is part of a clear trend toward the strengthening of the police state. The repressions will escalate”, an analyst said.

The interior ministry said 24 people were detained Wednesday on charges of taking part in unsanctioned protests. They could receive fines or jail sentences of up to 15 days if convicted.

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