Belarus leader cites alleged NATO threat to shore up rule

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarus’ authoritarian leader is accusing NATO of hatching aggressive plans as he tries to shore up his 26-year rule amid weeks of demonstrations against his re-election in a vote the opposition says was rigged. President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the nation of 9.5-million people with an iron fist since 1994, blamed the West on Friday for fomenting demonstrations in the country in the hope of using it as a “bridgehead against Russia.” NATO has rejected Lukashenko’s claims. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that he stands ready to send police into Belarus if protests there turn violent but sees no such need yet.