MINSK -- Belarus's authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has downplayed a criminal complaint filed in Germany on behalf of 10 Belarusians alleging that the strongman has committed crimes against humanity.
Speaking two days before Belarus commemorates the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany, Lukashenka referred on May 7 to the German lawyers who filed the case as the "heirs of fascism" and said they were in no position to judge him. The lawyers said on May 5 that, on behalf of "torture victims," they had submitted a complaint to federal prosecutors in the German city of Karlsruhe against Lukashenka "and other Belarusian security officers." "Who are they to judge me? For protecting you and my country? I do not reproach them. But they are the heirs of the generations who unleashed that war," he was quoted by the official BelTA news agency as saying.
The 66-year-old Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, was officially declared the winner by a landslide of a disputed presidential election in August 2020. This triggered almost daily protests demanding that the longtime strongman step down and new elections be held.
The opposition says the vote was rigged, and the West has refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus.
Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands, including dozens of journalists who covered the rallies, and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials against some of those detained.
Lukashenka has refused to talk to the opposition about a new elections and responded on May 7 to a call from some U.S. lawmakers a day earlier for Belarus to hold a new vote by saying that he will do so only if the United States does the same.
"Let the Americans call early elections and we will call an election in Belarus that very same day," BelTA cited him as saying. He added that he considers the results of last year's U.S. presidential election as having been "falsified," a claim pushed by former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters despite showing no proof to back up their words. The United States has imposed sanctions on Lukashenka and other senior Belarusian officials over the bloody crackdown. The European Union has followed suit. Lukashenka looked to placate protesters in December by saying that there needed to be constitutional amendments before an early presidential election could be held. His opponents, however, have called Lukashenka's gesture a sham to help him cling to power.