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Russia says outside forces trying to destabilise Belarus

FILE PHOTO: Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends the annual news conference of acting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Moscow, Russia January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday it was concerned by the situation in Belarus and said there were attempts by outside forces to meddle in and destabilise the country following Sunday’s contested election.

Belarus on Thursday began releasing some of the thousands of people detained in a crackdown by strongman President Alexander Lukashenko that has prompted the European Union to consider imposing sanctions.

“We note unprecedented pressure that is being exerted by individual foreign partners on the Belarusian authorities,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“We can see clear attempts of outside meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state to create a rift in society and destabilise the situation,” she told reporters at a briefing.

Thousands of people formed human chains and marched in the streets of Minsk for a fifth consecutive day of protests against Lukashenko, whom they accuse of rigging Sunday’s presidential election to extend his 26-year-long rule.

Lukashenko, also alleging a foreign-backed plot to destabilise the country, has dismissed the demonstrators as criminals and unemployed.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones and Nick Macfie

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