Belarussian president: 'We must protect our independence'
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday that the crisis in neighbouring Ukraine threatened his own country's security, and that Belarussians should pull together to protect their independence.
Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet country of 10 million people for almost 20 years, is a close ally of Moscow but he said last month that Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula set a bad precedent.
"The states surrounding us are in a state of flux. Ukraine is seething, Russia is trying to stand tall again, in front of our eyes old borders are crumbling," Lukashenko said in his annual address to parliament.
"Any geopolitical disasters will affect us too ... We have to defend our most important value: the independence of our country."
Lukashenko, criticised by the West for his harsh policies towards the opposition at home, relies heavily on economic and military support from Russia. On big international issues, he usually follows Russia's line.
However, tensions occasionally flare up in relations between Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"In order to defend this right (to independence) our whole nation must be united," Lukashenko said. "My message to those who are critical of the government is that we accept any opposition which is within the law."
But he also warned that tough measures would be taken against anyone who "calls for a mutiny."