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Belarus Leader Visits Zimbabwe to 'Strengthen' Ties

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (L) is welcomed by Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa (R) as he arrives for his state visit in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Jan. 30, 2023.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Zimbabwe on Monday for talks with his counterpart in what analysts said was an attempt by the two leaders to "diversify" their diplomatic ties.

The Belarusian president's office said Lukashenko, 68, landed in the capital, Harare, where he was welcomed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 80, and thousands of ruling ZANU-PF party supporters.

Zimbabwe's Foreign Ministry said the talks aimed at strengthening "the existing excellent relations" between the two countries, in areas including politics, mining and agriculture.

"The visit is historic, as it is the first such undertaking to a sub-Saharan African nation, by President Lukashenko," the ministry said in a statement.

Around 5,000 people chanting slogans and songs converged on the tarmac at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare as part of the welcome.

The two leaders, who have both faced Western sanctions, are due to hold an official meeting on Tuesday.

"Both countries are seeking to diversify their international relations — and both have been impacted by U.S. and EU sanctions imposed because of their poor human rights record," Alex Vines, who heads the Africa program at British think tank Chatham House, said.

"Belarus historically mostly looks to export its military expertise and kit," Vines said.

Lukashenko’s trip follows a 2019 visit by Mnangagwa to Minsk, after which Belarus opened an embassy in Harare. It comes with the two countries under a degree of diplomatic isolation, their leaders and government officials targeted by Western sanctions.

Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has backed Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

In power for nearly 30 years, Lukashenko has overseen a brutal crackdown on protests after a contested election in 2020.

Mnangagwa came to power in 2017 after generals forced long-time ruler Robert Mugabe to resign.

He is bidding for re-election this year amid accusations of corruption and rights violations, including a crackdown on political opponents.