Vladimir Putin says he has police on standby to enter Belarus

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Belarus' state television workers who have been on strike said that journalists and production staff from Russian state television had been flown into replace them, something that Lukashenko himself publicly confirmed this week.

On July 29, 32 Russian citizens were apprehended near Minsk, and another was detained in southern Belarus. "However, they were dragged onto Belarusian territory and painted as a potential force being used to destabilize the situation during the election campaign, which was absolutely untrue", Putin explained. Everyone knew relations between Moscow and Alexander Lukashenko were strained, but this seemed extreme.

Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is "afraid of his own people" a member of the Belarusian Opposition Coordination Council has told Euronews, after Lukashenko called on Russian president Vladimir Putin to help quell unrest in the country.

The issue of Western interference was also raised during Putin's telephone talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel last week.

Lukashenko secured his sixth term in the presidential election earlier this month, but demonstrators say the results were rigged.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Thursday condemned Mr Putin's announcement, calling it "a hostile act, in breach of worldwide law and human rights of Belarusian people, who should be free to decide their own fate".

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Macron said France is also ready to provide assistance to Navalny and his family "in terms of health, asylum and protection". Navalny's sudden illness came after he was seen drinking tea at an airport cafe just before boarding his flight.

He did nod to the concerns of protesters: if there were no problems, they wouldn't be out on the streets, Mr Putin reasoned.

The EU and USA have rejected the 9 August Belarus vote as neither free nor fair. Nearly 7,000 people have been detained, many brutally beaten, and several dozen have disappeared. Two days later, as schoolteachers led another protest, two leaders of the protest movement were sentenced to 10 days in jail and the country's supreme court rejected the opposition's allegations of election fraud.

The brutal suppression of peaceful rallies fueled public anger, helping swell the number of protesters, reaching an unprecedented peak of about 200,000 participants on two consecutive Sundays.

"It's part of the pressure on civil society", she told reporters outside Belarus' Investigative Committee headquarters.

Although the European Union is set to impose sanctions on 15 to 20 Belarusian officials for rigging the election, there is little or nothing the USA and the EU can do to alter the reality on the ground, officials on both sides of the Atlantic say.

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