Belarus leader says would have used army in unrest

MINSK, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko told the army on Monday that he would not have hesitated to call on it to handle street protests against his re-election last December if the unrest had got out of hand.

"If a situation had developed in such a way that the country had been really under threat, I would not have hesitated to use the armed forces," he told the military leadership, local news agencies said.

Riot police on Dec. 19 rounded up several hundred demonstrators and several opposition candidates who ran against Lukashenko, forcibly breaking up a big protest against what the opposition said was a fraudulent vote.

Those arrested are just coming to trial. In response to the crackdown, the United States and its European allies have imposed sanctions on Lukashenko, including a travel ban on him and his leading associates.

Lukashenko, who had been in power since 1994 and was once described as Europe's last dictator by the Bush administration, has ruled out any "revolution" taking place in his country and says he will no longer have anything to do with "senseless democracy".

Speaking to military commanders, he repeated allegations already made by state-controlled media that the Dec. 19 disturbances amounted to a conspiracy against him fomented by foreign intelligence services.


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