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Belarus leader alleges election meddling from Russia, Poland

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The president of Belarus has accused unidentified forces in Russia and Poland of interfering in the country's presidential election, in which he is seeking a sixth term. Speaking at a meeting with diplomats on Thursday, Alexander Lukashenko alleged that “puppet masters" in the two countries are behind those campaigning to run against him in the upcoming election. The president added that “hideous" fake stories about him and his family are being spread in Belarus as part of the meddling campaign.

“We will talk about it with (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin soon, when we meet, but this situation is very complicated. The most sophisticated fake (news) technologies are being used,” Lukashenko said.

The Kremlin on Thursday rejected the accusations. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia “has never meddled, does not meddle and doesn't plan to meddle” in elections in other countries, and added that Minsk should provide “arguments” in support of the allegations.

As the Aug. 9 presidential election approaches, Belarusian authorities have intensified efforts to disrupt the opposition, detaining about 360 opposition activists amid mass protests across the country. They included including popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovski, who was collecting signatures for his wife’s nomination as a presidential candidate. His wife said she was threatened along with their children.

Last week, authorities detained Viktor Babariko, a potential presidential candidate and the former head of a Russia-owned bank, Belgazprombank. Babariko, who claimed to have gathered 435,000 signatures in support of his candidacy — four times more than the minimum needed — is widely seen as the strongest candidate to challenge Lukashenko.

Lukashenko, 65, has ruled the nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist since July 1994 and relentlessly cracks down on the political opposition and independent media.

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