Belarus leader defends hosting hockey worlds, ridicules US

WASHINGTON (AP): Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko defended his country’s ability to host this year’s hockey world championships on Monday by ridiculing the United States following the violent attack at the Capitol.

The authoritarian leader met with International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel for talks amid calls to move the world championships following mass protests against Lukashenko’s rule.

He told Fasel that the protests would not make it unsafe for Belarus to host the tournament, and compared his country with the United States, where supporters of President Donald Trump rioted at the Capitol last week.

 “In our country, protesters and other dissatisfied people don’t storm government agencies and capitols,” Lukashenko said. “We have a completely normal situation from the perspective of the development of democratic processes.”

Belarus is scheduled to co-host the world championships with Latvia in May and June, but the opposition in the country has called for a boycott and the Latvian government has said it wants Belarus to be replaced.

At his meeting with Fasel, Lukashenko embraced his guest and also offered to host the entire tournament without Latvia and said it would be “the best world championship in history.”

Mass protests swept Belarus, a former Soviet nation of 9.5 million people, after official results from the presidential election on Aug. 9 gave Lukashenko a landslide victory over his widely popular opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She and her supporters refused to recognize the result, saying the vote was riddled with fraud.

Authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people.

Lukashenko has been president of the Belarus Olympic Committee since the 1990s and Fasel is an IOC member who previously sat on the executive committee. The IOC suspended Lukashenko from all Olympic activities last month, including this year’s Tokyo Games, saying that the country’s Olympic body had not protected athletes facing discrimination for their political views.