Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko misses key state event prompting ill health rumours

Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko has skipped a key state celebration, sparking speculation that the leader is seriously ill as he has remained missing from the public eye since last week.

The 68-year-old leader, who normally marks the annual celebration of National Flag, Emblem and Anthem Day by addressing the public, remained missing from the event on Sunday, with his prime minister reading a message on his behalf.

The autocratic leader of Belarus was last seen in public on 9 May, during Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.

This was the first time Mr Lukashenko did not speak at the event in Minsk that marks the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s Second World War victory over Germany.

According to state news agency BelTA, prime minister Roman Golovchenko read a message from Mr Lukashenko during the annual ceremony where young people swear allegiance to the ex-Soviet state’s flag.

It gave no reason for the president’s absence and Mr Lukashenko’s office declined to comment.

Confirming information of Mr Lukashenko’s illness, a senior leader of the Russian parliament told an outlet that he was sick, but does not have Covid.

Konstantin Zatulin, a senior member of the Duma lower house of parliament, told Russian online publication Podyom that “[Lukashenko] has simply fallen ill… and probably needs a rest”.

Opposition Belarusian outlet Euroradio said Mr Lukashenko was taken to a presidential medical centre in Minsk on Saturday night. The information, however, is yet to be confirmed.

The president, who is a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, travelled to Moscow on 9 May for the Victory Day parade where he looked visibly tired and sported a bandage on his hand, according to a report.

He swiftly left after the parade and skipped lunch with Mr Putin before laying flowers in the capital Minsk following his arrival.

Mr Lukashenko is often called the last dictator of Europe and has ruled Belarus since 1994.

The leader is known to crack down on dissenting voices by using force to put down protests, while courts have closed dissident media outlets and imposed long jail terms on opponents. Activists have fled the country en masse.

Unconfirmed reports and rumours claim Mr Lukashenko could get paralysis without a back surgery in the West, where he is unable to travel because of sanctions by Western countries.

In 2020, a number of countries, including the UK and the European Union, placed sanctions on the leader over allegations of vote rigging in presidential elections and a subsequent crackdown on protests.

Mass anti-government protests broke out after he proclaimed himself as the landslide winner of presidential elections that the opposition denounced as rigged. The Central Election Commission declared Mr Lukashenko had won more than 81 per cent of the vote.

Thousands of protesters were arrested and brutally beaten by police and Belarusian KGB security service agents, while Mr Lukashenko managed to stay in power with backing from Russia.

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