Belarus leader says Obama surprises him, 'blacks were slaves'
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, a frequent critic of the United States, said recent comments by President Barack Obama about American 'exceptionalism' had surprised him, given the country's history of slavery.
Obama termed the United States exceptional last month in a speech made when Washington was mulling military strikes on Syria for a chemical attack it blames on President Bashar al-Assad. The concept of American "exceptionalism" supposes a particular U.S. commitment to democratic values and an obligation to promote those values globally.
"Obama surprises me," said Lukashenko, described by detractors as the last dictator in Europe and criticized by human rights groups for his crackdown on dissent in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.
"Not long ago at all, blacks in America were slaves, and now they're talking about some kind of exceptionalism," the Belarus leader said in an interview with Kazakh television station 24KZ. "I never thought that a person coming from such poor (social) strata could use that kind of rhetoric."
The country of 9.5 million has grown increasingly isolated due to European Union travel and assets bans on people and companies associated with its government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Belarus' few allies and Assad's strongest international protector, called the concept of exceptionalism into question in a New York Times editorial last month.
(Reporting By Thomas Grove; editing by Ralph Boulton)
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