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Belarus reserves plunge by $1.4 billion in turbulent August

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belarus burned through $1.4 billion of gold and foreign exchange reserves in August, central bank figures showed on Monday, as it intervened to support its rouble currency during mass protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Reserves fell by 15.7% during the month to $7.5 billion. The central bank also said that Belarus paid down $351.7 million in external debt last month.

The figures starkly illustrate the economic strain on the former Soviet republic, where Lukashenko is clinging onto power in the face of huge protests and strikes since an Aug. 9 presidential election which his opponents say was rigged.

The Belarusian rouble touched an all-time low in August but has since slightly recovered. It was trading broadly flat at 3.12 versus the euro EURBYN= and 0.2% stronger against the dollar at 2.63 BYN= in early trade on Monday.

Despite facing foreign currency shortages at exchange points and banks as people rushed to withdraw deposits and sell the rouble, the central bank has promised not to introduce capital controls to prevent a further drop in the currency.

Belarus needs to pay $1.6 billion in foreign currency debt by the end of this year, the finance ministry said earlier, starting talks with Russia over debt restructuring and promising to honour its obligations.

Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated again in Belarus on Sunday. Security forces detained 633 protesters, Belarusian authorities said.

Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Mark Trevelyan/Andrew Osborn

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