The talks in Sochi come as the UN rights chief urges investigation into torture allegations against Belarus security forces stemming from the response to protests over the disputed reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus’ authoritarian president has visited Russia in a bid to secure more loans and political support, as demonstrations against the extension of his 26-year rule entered their sixth week.
President Vladimir Putin said at talks on Monday with embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko that Russia had agreed a $1.5 billion loan with Minsk but the Belarusian people should resolve the crisis without foreign interference.
Putin, in comments broadcast on TV from the talks in Russia’s Sochi, said he thought a proposal by Lukashenko to carry out constitutional reform was logical and timely.
Lukashenko’s talks with the Russian president in the Black Sea resort of Sochi come a day after an estimated 150,000 people flooded the streets of the Belarusian capital, demanding Lukashenko’s resignation. The Interior Ministry said 774 people were arrested in Minsk and other cities of Belarus for holding unsanctioned rallies on Sunday.
Protesters in Belarus have dismissed Lukashenko’s reelection for a sixth term in the August 9 vote as rigged. The United States and the European Union have criticised the election as neither free nor fair and urged the Belarusian leader to engage in talks with the opposition, a demand he rejected.
READ MORE: Mass arrests as tens of thousands protest in Belarus
In a bid to win Moscow’s support, the 66-year-old former state farm director has tried to cast the protests as an effort by the West to isolate Russia, which sees the neighbour as a key bulwark against NATO and a major conduit for energy exports to Europe.
Russian support now important
Russia and Belarus have a union treaty envisaging close political, economic and military ties, but they have often engaged in acrimonious disputes. Before the election, Lukashenko repeatedly accused the Kremlin of pressing Belarus to abandon its independence.
But with the United States and the European Union criticising the election and readying a package of sanctions, Lukashenko now has to rely squarely on Russia’s support.
Despite frictions in the past, the Kremlin abhors the prospect of public protests forcing the resignation of the nation’s leader, fearing it could embolden Putin’s critics at home.
Putin quickly congratulated Lukashenko on his reelection and promised to send Russian police to Belarus if protests there turn violent, noting that there is no need for that yet.
Moscow has also signalled it’s ready to discuss the restructuring of Belarus’ $1 billion debt to Russia, a key issue in Monday’s talks between Putin and Lukashenko.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main opposition challenger who moved to Lithuania a day after the vote under pressure from the authorities, warned Putin that any agreements he may reach with Lukashenko will not stand.
“I’m very sorry that you have opted to have a dialogue with the dictator and not the Belarusian people,” she said on Monday. “Any agreements signed with Lukashenko, who lacks legitimacy, will be retracted by the new government.”
READ MORE: Belarus police detain dozens of protesters at anti-government rally
UN steps up pressure over Belarus violence
The UN rights chief said on Monday that torture allegations against Belarusian security forces must be investigated, turning up the pressure on strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
Michelle Bachelet said there were hundreds of allegations of torture or ill-treatment, including of children, stemming from the response to protests over the disputed reelection of Lukashenko as president of Belarus.
“Given their scale and number, all allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment by the security forces should be documented and investigated, with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice,” she said during the opening of the UN Human Rights Council, which has agreed to hold an urgent debate.
READ MORE: Belarus opposition politician snatched by masked men
Rare council debate
Bachelet said there were reports of sexual violence, abductions of people associated with the opposition and targeting of journalists.
“There has been limited evidence of any steps by the authorities to address these reports,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.
“Re-establishing social peace in Belarus requires far-reaching dialogue, reforms and accountability for grave human rights violations.”
The council has agreed to a European Union proposal to host a rare urgent debate on Friday over the deteriorating situation.
In presenting the request, German ambassador Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg pointed to reports of “unprecedented attacks on, and torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of peaceful protesters as well as harassment, intimidation and detentions of opposition leaders.”
“The situation on the ground clearly warrants an urgent debate. The Human Rights Council should not stay silent on this matter,” he said.
However, Belarusian ambassador Yury Ambrazevich slammed the proposal as a “manipulation of the council” that “has nothing to do with human rights,” but is merely aimed at exerting political pressure on Belarus.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies
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