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German vice chancellor calls Lukashenko a 'dictator'

FILE PHOTO: Olaf Scholz, who says he has been proposed by his Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership as their candidate for the Chancellor at next year's elections, attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz described Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday as a dictator who had lost the support of his people and warned Moscow against intervening to keep him in power.

Belarusians chanting “Step down!” filled the centre of the capital Minsk on Sunday in the biggest protest so far against what demonstrators said was the fraudulent re-election a week ago of the longtime president.

“This is a bad dictator and therefore he needs clear statements and clear language,” Scholz, who is also Germany’s vice chancellor, told the Bild newspaper website in a live interview.

Opponents of Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, say the vote was rigged to disguise the fact that he has lost public support. At least two protesters have died and thousands have been detained in a crackdown since the vote.

“I am firmly convinced that this president no longer has any legitimacy, otherwise he would not rule with such unbelievable and brutal force,” said Scholz, who is the Social Democrat candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Asked what could be done to prevent Russia becoming involved, Scholz said: “Military interference in other states is not acceptable at all and breaks all the rules we have set ourselves under international law.”

Russia has said it would offer Lukashenko military help if necessary.

Reporting by Ralf Bode and Emma Thomasson; Editingby Daniel Wallis

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