Belarus' Lukashenko threatens to stop foreign imports
Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko warned on Friday he could order the country's borders closed to most foreign goods if a financial crisis worsened, dpa reported.
"If it comes to a disaster, we will close the borders and import only what we need ... we have enough money to buy food and clothing," he said.
He said those who are unhappy living in Belarus "can go live in another country."
Lukashenko made his comments at a news conference in the capital Minsk. The country faces a cash crunch due to rising fuel prices, relatively high social benefits and falling production.
The release in May of the Belarusian rouble from a fixed exchange rate caused a spike in prices by as much as 50 per cent.
The Belarusian government wants to stem the flow of hard currency from the country and prevent trade across the border in subsidised domestic goods.
"We will come out of this situation in a few months," Lukashenko said, in comments reported by Interfax. "If we want to be independent, we will need to sacrifice."
Lukashenko said on television that much of the criticism of his government came from "the garbage heap called the internet." He said that Belarusians needed to understand the price of having their own country.
"You don't want to be part of Russia or have a life like the Baltic states do within the European Union? I don't either," he said. "But are you ready to pay for that? Or not?"
"If you are not ready then go your own way, you can go live in another country, or in the EU - but not with me."
Belarus' government has been promised 4 billion dollars in emergency loans from China and from a Russia-led financial group. It has also asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for credits.
Belarusian police in recent weeks have put down isolated demonstrations against Lukashenko-ordered austerity measures, most recently by youths and importers of foreign goods.
Independent Belarusian media have reported hoarding of fuel, foodstuffs and foreign currency.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus almost unchallenged since taking control of the country in a 1994 constitutional coup.