Europe

Why does Belarus President Lukashenko take son Kolya to work?

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and his son Kolya pose with the Obamas at a reception in honour of the United Nations General Assembly, 28 September 2015 Image copyright Presidential website
Image caption President Alexander Lukashenko took his son, Kolya, to meet the US president and his wife

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko surprised some onlookers by taking his 11-year-old son to the UN General Assembly in New York.

Kolya was photographed posing with his father alongside Barack and Michelle Obama at a reception for the summit on Monday.

But he was not just there for the sandwiches.

Kolya also joined world leaders in the seats of the general assembly hall as his father addressed delegates from around the world.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Smartly dressed Kolya sat with his father's colleagues as the Belarusian president addressed the General Assembly

But it was not a one-off "take your child to work day" for Belarus's ruling family.

The little boy in a suit often accompanies his father on official business, including a visit to Beijing for China's World War Two commemorations on 3 September.

Kolya was pictured watching Beijing's massive military parade alongside the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and lining up for a photo shoot with leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Image copyright Presidential website
Image caption The pair (centre) watched China's display of military might with other delegates in Tiananmen square
Image copyright Presidential website
Image caption Kolya lined up with his father in the front row, fifth from right

There are claims Mr Lukashenko is grooming his youngest son to be his successor.

Speaking to the BBC in 2012, Mr Lukashenko denied this and insisted the boy was so attached to him that he would not go to sleep without him.

Among other recent trips, Kolya went with his father to the United Arab Emirates in October 2014 where they visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Image copyright Belarus embassy
Image caption The proud father took his son on his official visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

He may be extraordinarily well travelled for an 11-year-old, but some critics have begun to question the increasing impact of all these appearances on his education.

Kolya missed a week of school in September this year - the same amount of time that he missed during six months of 2014, according to the Polish-funded, Belarusian-language TV station Belsat.

Image copyright Presidential website
Image caption Kolya and his father planted a tree in the Memorial Garden of Shakarparian during an official visit to Pakistan in May 2015

Mr Lukashenko's tight grip on power has brought criticism from the West - with the US Bush administration describing him in 2005 as the "last dictator in Europe" at the head of an "outpost of tyranny".

Human rights groups accuse him of widespread abuses.

Meanwhile most Belarusian media channels are controlled by the government.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Belarus elected a parliament filled with supporters of President Alexander Lukashenko in 2012 after a boycott by the main opposition parties

Kolya, short for Nikolai, is the youngest of the president's three sons.

It has been widely reported in Western media that he was born in 2004 as a result of an extra-marital affair between the president and his personal doctor.

Whatever the circumstances of his birth, Kolya has certainly received special attention in recent years - attending numerous world events and meeting global leaders.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Five-year-old Kolya proved a hit with Russia's then President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kolya has been on parade from an early age. Here the pair ride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle through Minsk in 2009

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