Belarus strongman attends church for Easter, slams virus curbs

AFP , Sunday 19 Apr 2020

Easter, Belarus
A Catholic priest, wearing a face mask to protect from coronavirus, blesses traditional Easter food in preparation for an Easter celebration outside a church as religious services continue in Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, April 11, 2020. (AP)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday chastised other countries for stopping people attending Orthodox Easter services as he defiantly visited a church outside the capital.

The strongman has cast doubt on the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and allowed public events such as football matches to continue while the country of nine million has more than 4,000 confirmed cases.

While many countries held Orthodox Easter services in closed churches with online and televised broadcasts, Belarus kept churches open to the public.

"I don't approve of those who have closed people's way to church. I don't approve of such a policy," Lukashenko said while visiting the church, Belta state news agency reported.

"You know my position: we experience these viruses every year."

Orthodox believers celebrated Easter a week after Catholics and Protestants this year because they follow a different calendar.

Leaders of other countries with a large proportion of Orthodox Christians, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, did not go to Easter services.

But the Belarusian leader dropped into the church at a monastery in a village east of Minsk with his teenage son, lit a candle and briefly talked to parishioners, his press service said.

Lukashenko and his son Nikolai, both in dark suits and no face masks, lit candles watched by monks in black habits and parishioners, Belta reported.

Lukashenko was also handed flowers by small children.

"Whatever has happened in our history no one has been able to close, shut down or ban this holiday," he said, while the monastery he visited was closed for decades by the Soviet authorities.

"I have always come to church and I always will."

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