Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, has hit out at plans by a group of British lawyers to sue him over his regime's ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners.

The 56-year-old leader, described as Europe's last dictator, said any attempt to pursue him through the courts had "zero prospects" and were a "cheap trick" by opposition politicians. He also attacked the Independent newspaper, which broke the news that H20 Law, a specialist human rights law firm, was planning to launch both a civil action and a private prosecution against him. Pavel Legkiy, Lukashenko's press officer, denounced the plan as "nothing more than a PR-action by these gentlemen lawyers".

"This is just a way to somehow draw attention to themselves by exploiting the popularity of the Belarusian leader and the seriousness of the political situation," he said.

Legkiy criticised the Independent, which has published a series of reports on the worsening human rights situation in Belarus: "The Independent ... just bought into a cheap trick. This kind of thing hurts the image of a serious publication."

Human rights groups and foreign governments have accused Minsk of initiating a state-wide crackdown on pro-democracy activists after last December's disputed presidential elections. Virtually all those who stood against Lukashenko in the election have been arrested and charged with organising mass riots. Two presidential candidates are still in jail. Hundreds more activists, campaigners and journalists have been rounded up on lesser charges and widespread allegations of torture have been documented inside KGB-run prisons.

H2O, which has in the past pursued the Real IRA and Colonel Muammar Gadaffi's regime through the law, said it was planning to use British and European courts to sue Lukashenko and his lieutenants. The firm represents Free Belarus Now, a coalition of campaigners and family of many of those who have been imprisoned.

Jason McCue of H2O said: "If Mr Lukashenko truly believes this is just a PR stunt and that he has nothing to fear, then I presume he will readily confirm his willingness to accept service of the proceedings, attend and face trial."

John Kampfner, CEO of Index of Censorship, said: "For 15 years ... Lukashenko has crushed freedom of expression, detained opposition members, and rigged elections. Western governments have initiated trade deals, and put on the table IMF loans regardless of the domestic political situation.

- INDEPENDENT