Belarusian Prime Minister replaces Lukashenko at ceremony, sparks speculation

Belarusian Prime Minister replaces Lukashenko at ceremony, sparks speculation


May 14 (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has not been seen in public since Tuesday, did not appear at a ceremony in the capital Minsk on Sunday, sparking speculation that the veteran leader is seriously ill.

The state news agency BelTA reported that Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko read a message from Lukashenko at an annual ceremony in which young people swear allegiance to the flag of the ex-Soviet state.

The agency gave no reason for Lukashenko’s absence five days after he became unwell and skipped parts of commemorations in Moscow marking the Soviet Union’s victory over Germany in World War II.

Lukashenko also did not speak at an event in Minsk to mark the anniversary for the first time in his long presidency. That event was the last time he was seen in public.

Lukashenko’s office declined to comment.

Lukashenko was taken to an elite clinic in Minsk on Saturday, according to the opposition newspaper Euroradio.

A Russian online publication, Podyom, quoted a senior member of the State Duma’s parliament, Konstantin Zatulin, as saying that “(Lukashenko) just got sick… and probably needs a rest.”

The Russian daily newspaper Kommersant also published a story about Lukashenko’s health, citing Zatulin and Belarusian opposition media. Russian media rarely publish stories about the health of the leaders of Russia or its allied neighbors.

Lukashenko, 68, has led Belarus since 1994, using police to crack down on protests, as courts closed dissident media outlets and long-term prison sentences for opponents, and activists fled the country in droves.

Lukashenko received support from Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin in crushing protests, and last year allowed his country’s territory to be used as part of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia calls the invasion a “special operation”.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik is expected to begin this three-day visit to Moscow on Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Lidia Kelly; Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Gerry Doyle)