Lukashenko declares security shake-up to harden grip on Belarus

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks at an event in Minsk, Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko replaced his interior minister and named three security hawks to new roles on Thursday to tighten his grip on the country after nearly 12 weeks of mass protests.

Ivan Kubrakov, who, as head of police in the capital Minsk has led the crackdown on the most significant demonstrations, was appointed interior minister.

His predecessor, Yuri Karayev, was one of three men named to new roles as presidential aides and “inspectors” responsible for the country’s key regions.

The reshuffle marked the latest move by Lukashenko to tighten security across the former Soviet republic’s whole in the face of demonstrations and strikes since a disputed presidential election on Aug. 9.

His security forces have arrested more than 16,000 people since the vote, which the opposition says was rigged.

United Nations investigators have reported many cases of severe beatings and torture – an accusation denied by Karayev, the outgoing interior minister, who has described the Belarusian police as one of the most humane police forces in the world.

Lukashenko’s position appears more secure after a national strike call by the opposition failed to bring the economy to a halt this week.

But protests have continued, especially at universities, and tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied each weekend since the election to demand an end to his 26-year rule.

The two other two new presidential aides are Valery Vakulchik, who spent eight years as head of the KGB security police, and former deputy interior minister Alexander Barsukov.

Barsukov will be responsible for Minsk, and Vakulchik and Karayev for Brest and Grodno’s regions, respectively.

Both are western parts of the country close to its borders with NATO countries. Lukashenko, who staged military exercises in September with close ally Russia, has repeatedly alleged that NATO and the West are whipping up unrest in Belarus.

Addressing the three new aides, Lukashenko said they were heading to critical areas of the country “in connection with the events that have occurred and are not yet over – we still don’t know what this may result in”.

“Why you? You are military people; you’re knowledgeable, you don’t need to be brought up to speed and taught.”

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