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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday that he would step down as president once a new constitution is adopted and proposed curbing presidential powers as part of the reforms, though he gave no timeline for those moves.

Lukashenko, who has faced mass protests calling for him to step down since a presidential election on Aug. 9, made the comment a day after Russia’s foreign minister told him to press ahead with constitutional reforms to defuse the crisis.

“I will not work as president with you under the new constitution,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by the Belta news agency.

He said the current constitution needed reforming as too much power was concentrated in the hands of the president and that there would be “trouble” if he handed over the reins now.

He made the comments at a hospital treating coronavirus patients, where he donned a white hazmat suit and spoke to patients wearing a face mask, but no gloves.

Russia, a key ally, has publicly backed Lukashenko’s stated intention to reform the constitution, but no proposals have materialised as the political standoff between Lukashenko and his opponents has rumbled on.

Protesters dismiss the reform promises as a stalling tactic.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Lukashenko on Thursday to honour the reform promise as well as other, unspecified agreements made with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in September.

Lukashenko’s actions are being closed watched for clues to what Russia, whose political support is vital for him to stay in power, is pushing him to do.

Reporting by Polina Devitt; additional reporting by Alexander Marrow; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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