LONDON (Reuters) -Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told her supporters on Monday to be ready to grab any chance to turn her country into a democracy as speculation about the health of veteran President Alexander Lukashenko swirled.
Shortly after her message to supporters via Twitter, a Belarusian state news channel released a photo of Lukashenko, 68, at what it said was a military command centre in what would be his first public appearance in almost a week.
State TV later broadcast a clip of Lukashenko at what it said was a central air force command base. It showed him sitting in a chair talking to officers. Dressed in a military uniform, Lukashenko appeared to have a bandage on his left hand and to be short of breath at times.
Lukashenko, who once told Reuters he was “the last and only dictator in Europe”, has ruled Belarus with an iron first since 1994, using his security forces to intimidate, beat and jail his opponents or force them to flee abroad.
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A staunch ally of Russia, Lukashenko before Monday had not been pictured in public since May 9 when he reviewed Russia’s annual military parade on Moscow’s Red Square as a guest of President Vladimir Putin.
Looking tired and a little unsteady, Lukashenko was seen with a bandage on his right hand at the time. He skipped a lunch hosted by Putin. He also swerved his traditional post-parade stroll and was driven a short distance to an event instead.
Speculation about his health intensified on Sunday when Lukashenko missed a ceremony in Minsk amid unconfirmed media reports that he had been hospitalised. His place was taken by Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko. Lukashenko’s office has declined to comment on his absence.
A truculent but long-standing ally of