Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has not been seen in public since Tuesday, failed to appear at a ceremony in the capital Minsk on Sunday, sparking speculation that the veteran leader is seriously ill.

The state news agency BelTA reported that Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko read a message from Lukashenko during an annual ceremony in which young people pledge allegiance to the flag of the former Soviet state.

The agency gave no reason for Lukashenko’s absence five days after he appeared to be unwell and skipped parts of commemorations in Moscow marking the Soviet Union’s World War II victory over Germany.

Lukashenko also did not speak at an event in Minsk marking the anniversary for the first time in his long presidency. That event was the last time he was seen in public.

Lukashenko’s office has declined to comment.

According to the opposition news outlet Euroradio, Lukashenko was taken to an elite Minsk clinic on Saturday.

Lukashenko, second from left, during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Kremlin wall in Moscow on May 9.Alexey Maishev/AP

A Russian online publication, Podyom, quoted a senior member of the Duma’s lower house of parliament, Konstantin Zatulin, as saying that «(Lukashenko) just got sick… and probably needs to rest.»

The Russian daily Kommersant also carried a story on Lukashenko’s health, citing Zatulin and the Belarusian opposition media. Russian media rarely carry stories about the health of Russia’s leaders or their allied neighbors.

Lukashenko, 68, has ruled Belarus since 1994, using police to suppress protests while courts shut down dissident media outlets and imposed long jail terms on opponents, and activists fled the country en masse.

Lukashenko was backed by Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin to crush the protests, and last year allowed his country’s territory to be used as part of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia calls the invasion a «special operation.»

Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik is expected to start this three-day visit to Moscow on Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week.

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