Belarus 'does not need' Russia air base - Lukashenko

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A placard depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin with a bomb on a plane is held by protesters in Minsk. Photo: 4 October 2015Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Protesters in Minsk mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying an air base would mean "occupation"

Belarus does not need a Russian air base, President Alexander Lukashenko has said, despite growing pressure from Moscow to establish such a facility.

He said the issue was never discussed with Russia, although last month President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to fine-tune a deal.

On Sunday, hundreds of Belarusian activists held a protest rally in the capital Minsk against the Russian plan.

Belarus is Russia's key ally, and is a member of a Moscow-led economic union.

"We don't need a base today," Mr Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Belarusian media on Tuesday.

"I hear shrieks from the opposition about the deployment of a Russian air base. I don't know anything about it.

"We need planes - not bases. We have our excellent pilots... Why should I allow in planes and pilots from other countries?"

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Alexander Lukashenko - described as "Europe's last dictator" - has run Belarus since 1994

Russia has so far made no public comments in response to Mr Lukashenko's statements.

Moscow already has a radar station in Belarus, which borders with three Nato countries and also Ukraine, where the government has been fighting with pro-Russian separatists.

Despite publicly declaring his loyalty to Russia, Mr Lukashenko has largely remained neutral over the conflict in Ukraine.

Mr Lukashenko - once described as "Europe's last dictator" - has also been signalling to the EU that he is interested in improving relations with the bloc.

His comments came ahead of Sunday's presidential elections, which he looks certain to win.

He has been in power since 1994, rejecting accusations by the opposition and the West that he has turned Belarus into an authoritarian state.