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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Accuses West of Conspiracy

MINSK, Belarus - Leaders of the opposition to authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday dismissed his claim that they were financed by the West and said his outburst signaled his plans to step up repression.

In a speech before security officials, excerpts of which were broadcast on Belarusian state television late Tuesday, Lukashenko claimed that the West had given the opposition $108 million to support its bid in parliamentary elections last month and in next year's presidential race.

He angrily dismissed a call by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to make Belarus' political system more democratic, and said the government would more closely monitor Western diplomats' activities.

?We need to establish a tight counterintelligence watch over foreign diplomats and ensure that they observe Belarusian law,? Lukashenko said.

The opposition leaders said that Lukashenko's statement was a sign that he intended to eradicate any remaining opposition in the run-up to the presidential election, scheduled for no later than September 2001.

?This is an attempt to scare the opposition and foreign diplomats in Belarus,? said Vyacheslav Sivchik, a leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, a leading opposition group. He dismissed Lukashenko's claim that the opposition was funded by the West as a ?populist lie.?

Only a couple of opposition candidates made it to parliament in last month's parliamentary elections, which the OSCE described as non-democratic.

?Lukashenko wants to destroy all the opposition media and political parties by the time of the presidential election,? said Anatoly Lebedko, the leader of the Unified Civil Party, a main opposition group.

In one of his harshest tirades against the West, Lukashenko also alleged on Tuesday that NATO was considering a military action against Belarus and said he had ordered an increase in defense spending.

?We have allocated huge funds to strengthen the air force and air defense troops, taking into account the Yugoslav experience,? he said, referring to last year's NATO air raids on Yugoslavia.

?They are waving a finger and putting a fist to the face of the president and the Belarusian people: Be obedient or it will be as it was in Yugoslavia.?

Lukashenko's authoritarian ways have drawn strong criticism from Western governments and international human rights groups. As Belarus' economy has plunged deeper into crisis, the flamboyant former farm director has continued to enjoy broad support thanks to his populist rhetoric and efforts to maintain a Soviet-era social safety-net.

Lukashenko on Tuesday dismissed opposition allegations that the disappearance of several prominent opposition figures had been orchestrated by the government, but said that as head of state, he bore responsibility for the failure to find them.

Lukashenko has shaken up his government, firing several security officials this week in what his office described as a response to that failure.