İrem UZUN -TDO- Lukashenko arrived in Sochi to meet Putin on Monday, as protests continued across Belarus seeking the end of his rule following a disputed August 9 election. His plane landed in the Black Sea region a day after police arrested 774 people at anti-government rallies across the country, including 500 in the capital, Minsk, the Belarusian interior ministry said. The meeting marked the first face-to-face talks between the leaders since the contested Belarusian election.

“A friend is in trouble, and I say that sincerely,” Lukashenko told Putin in televised remarks at the start of the meeting, thanking him for his support. Putin said Russia would offer a loan of $1.5bn to Belarus, which could help Lukashenko avoid an economic crisis in the short term. The pair later talked for four hours, said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, characterizing the conversation as “constructive, lengthy and substantive in content”. He said Putin had backed Lukashenko’s idea of constitutional reform. Lukashenko has previously said he would rather die than relinquish power.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Belarusian opposition leader, said she regretted Putin's "dialogue with a dictator". Tikhanovskaya, living in Lithuania after being forced into exile, said on her Telegram channel that "I want to remind Vladimir Putin, whatever you agree on in Sochi will not have legal force. Any agreements signed with illegitimate Lukashenko will be revisited by a new government because the Belarusian people no longer trust Lukashenko and did not support him in the elections. I regret that you have decided on dialogue with a dictator and not with the people of Belarus".

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