MINSK — The mercurial Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko lashed out Sunday at recent sanctions imposed by Europe over his rights record by saying he would rather be branded a dictator than be gay.
Lukashenko said in impromptu remarks at a mass ski event that the foreign ministers of Poland and Germany, who had spearheaded the diplomatic offensive against his government, were outsiders who deserved public scorn.
"One lives in Warsaw and the other in Berlin," Lukashenko said in apparent reference to Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
"As for the second one who was screaming about a dictatorship... Having heard that, I thought to myself: better to be a dictator than gay."
Lukashenko last year said he had once told Westerwelle, who is openly gay, during a meeting that "he must lead a normal life".
He later apologised for his remarks but added that he "did not like gays."
The 57-year-old former collective farm boss -- once identified as Europe's last dictator by Washington -- has left his ex-Soviet nation in growing diplomatic isolation over his nearly 18-year rule.
EU states last month withdrew their ambassadors from Minsk after Belarus recalled its own representatives from Brussels and Warsaw in protest over a new raft of travel and financial restrictions imposed on senior officials.
Lukashenko has faced waves of Western sanctions in the past but is now also in growing danger of seeing the 2014 World Ice Hockey Championship pulled from Minsk -- a serious slight to the sport-mad president.
The Belarus leader said he was certain that Minsk would get to keep an event for which it has already built a brand new sports palace in the capital.
"Belarus deserves to stage the 2014 World Championship in Belarus. We will be preparing for it very seriously."