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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko: Belarus Wants New Stalinism

MINSK, Belarus -- President Alexander Lukashenko moved Wednesday to further tighten his rule in this former Soviet republic, saying people are asking him to introduce dictatorship similar to that of Josef Stalin.

"People are saying, 'Mr. President, give us dictatorship. Give us Stalin's times,'" Lukashenko said in a television broadcast with regional administrators and state farm directors.

Lukashenko's increasing authoritarianism is drawing protests from abroad. The United States ordered a Belarus diplomat out of the country Wednesday in retaliation for Belarus' expulsion of an American diplomat earlier this week.

First Secretary and consul Vladimir Gramyka was given 24 hours to leave the United States, State Department spokesman John Dinger said in Washington.

Earlier Wednesday, Belarus recalled its own ambassador-designate, who was on his way to the United States.

"This is a parallel process connected to the American decision to summon the U.S. ambassador for consultations," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Poluyan.

Lukashenko, a former Soviet farm director, rules Belarus in the Soviet manner he openly admires and has little tolerance for dissent. He has closed newspapers, responded to a wave of demonstrations with mass arrests, and taken other steps to curb the media and political opposition.

He is widely popular among Belarussians, who are facing economic hardships and are nostalgic for the Soviet past. He gained nearly unlimited powers in a referendum last year.

Lukashenko is trying to forge a union with Russia, and his allies in Moscow say international criticism of his policies is only meant to thwart their unification.

In recent days, the Minsk government used the Soviet tactic of closed-door trials to secretly sentence dozens of people who took part in an opposition rally on Sunday.

At least 40 protesters received fines or jail sentences of three to 15 days, said Boris Gyunter, a Popular Front spokesman. The government has declined to provide details of the trials.

Lukashenko also banned foreign television crews from broadcasting reports out of Belarus, drawing protests from international and Russian journalists' groups. Lashing out Wednesday at unspecified domestic and foreign enemies eager to destroy Belarus' economy, Lukashenko justified his new measures by the need for productive spring field work.

"I'm putting myself and my entire government into a state of emergency" for the spring season, Lukashenko announced.

The presidential helicopter "will hang over your heads in the air almost every day" for surprise trips meant to increase work discipline. He said he would send special envoys to report to prosecutors those farmers and administrators who do not properly fulfill their duties.

"The questions related to the reports of my representatives will be decided by law enforcement bodies within one week," Lukashenko said. "The verdicts will be the harshest possible."

Having already restored Soviet symbols, Lukashenko promised Wednesday to revive the Soviet tradition "subbotniks" -- unpaid mandatory labor on weekends, mostly in street cleanup.

He called for holding a subbotnik on April 22, the birthday of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.

Even Russia, which is planning to reunite with Belarus and usually supports Lukashenko, expressed "deep concern" this week about curbs on the Russian news media.

But Interfax quoted Russia's minister for relations between former Soviet republics, Aman Tuleyev, as saying the turmoil in Belarus was "a planned provocation aimed at foiling the establishment of a full-fledged union of our countries."

Lukashenko accused two leaders of the main nationalist opposition group, the Belarusian Popular Front, of organizing "anti-Belarussian centers" in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Claiming that Zenon Poznyak and Sergei Naumchik want to agitate ethnic Poles living in the republic, Lukashenko told administrators of regions with many ethnic Poles to use "harsher and decisive actions."

Poznyak and Naumchik have been living outside Belarus since last year, when they were granted political asylum in the United States.

On a visit Wednesday to Lithuania, Poznyak accused Russia of seeking to occupy Belarus, using Lukashenko as a tool, Interfax