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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he would step down after a new constitution is adopted, the state-owned BelTA news agency cited him as saying on Friday.
“I am not going to shape the constitution to suit my needs,” he is quoted as saying. “I am not going to be the president once the new constitution is in place.”
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Belarus has been rocked by months of anti-government protests ever since Lukashenko — often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator” — claimed victory in an Aug. 9 presidential election that his opponents say was rigged, a charge he denies.
It remained unclear whether Lukashenko’s comments were sincere or whether he was just paying lip service to the prospect of him stepping aside. In any case, it is the first time he has publicly reflected on how the country will be governed when he is no longer president.
His comments on the constitution came as he was visiting a Minsk hospital on Friday. He appeared to suggest that the current constitution concentrates too much power in the hands of the president.
“We need to create a new constitution but it should benefit the country. I don’t want the country to fall to ruin later on,” he said, according to the news agency.
Lukashenko has maintained his grasp on power in the former Soviet nation for the last 26 years and met the protests with a violent crackdown. Hundreds have been arrested and there have been allegations of torture from people held in custody.
This is his sixth term as president.
The latest news comes after the European Union imposed sanctions earlier this month on Lukashenko and 14 other officials over their roles in the security crackdown launched during the protests.
Pictures from the streets of the Belarusian capital Minsk earlier this week showed people protesting against police violence, and brandishing the former white-red-white flag of Belarus that has become a symbol of protest in the country.
More than three months after an historic protest movement emerged across Belarus, people continue to take to the streets.
This is a breaking story. Please check back for details.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Saphora Smith is a London-based reporter for NBC News Digital.
Tatyana Chistikova is a freelance journalist based in Moscow, Russia.