Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday sharply attacked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for mixing politics with financial matters, saying IMF representatives had insisted on political prisoners being freed in exchange for credit.
The ex-Soviet republic is seeking up to $8 billion in credit as an emergency loan to help the economy weather its worst financial crisis in 10 years.
"Do you know what these economists, financiers, said? They are demanding that political prisoners be released. What does that have to do with the IMF? They should be looking after financial and economic matters. And the first thing they come out with is this demand," he told journalists.
"They have shown their face, finally," he added.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, is battling an economic crisis, which forced a 36 percent devaluation of the Belarussian rouble earlier this year, and European Union and US sanctions imposed over a crackdown on the political opposition.
Hundreds of protesters, as well as several candidates for the presidency, were arrested last December when Lukashenko was re-elected in a vote which the opposition said was rigged.
According to a letter from Lukashenko to the EU, obtained by Reuters on 1 September, however, he has said he is ready to release all political prisoners by early October. These would include presidential ex-candidates, Andrei Sannikov, Nikola Statkevich and Dmitri Uss.
Despite his sharp words against the IMF, Belarus is moving cautiously towards liberalising trading in the rouble in line with Fund recommendations.
The National Bank said on Friday that it would launch an extra trading session for markets on 14 September to allow free trading of the rouble.
In the extra session, the rouble will trade against foreign currencies such as the dollar and the euro, but the main session will only allow payment for gas and electricity at the rate fixed by the bank.
The official exchange rate, set by the central bank daily, stood at 5.271 per dollar on Friday, but, due to lack of hard currency, the dollar is buying up to 8,000 roubles each on the black market.