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Belarus: Protests after opposition leaders barred from August election

Belarus: Protests after opposition leaders barred from August election

Protests broke out in Belarus on Tuesday, resulting in numerous arrests, with locals venting their anger over the decision to bar two main rivals from running against authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko in August's presidential election.

Hundreds of Belarusians took to the streets of Minsk, frustrated at the exclusion of Valery Tsepkalo and Viktor Babariko from the ballot paper, and removing any serious threat to Lukashenko's quest for a sixth term after a quarter-century in power.

Read more: Opinion: Endgame for Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko?

Babariko, the former head of a Russia-owned bank, attracted over 400,000 signatures in support of his candidacy, four times more than the minimum required. However, he was imprisoned in June after being accused of taking $430 million (€378 million) out of the country in money-laundering schemes. Rights group Amnesty International recognizes him as a prisoner of conscience.

The Belarusian electoral commission on Monday ruled unanimously that Babariko should not be on the ballot paper as a result of the charges.

Tsepkalo, meanwhile, a former ambassador to the United States and a founder of a successful high-technology park, garnered 160,000 signatures in support of his candidacy for the August 9 election, but the commission said only 75,000 were valid, less than the 100,000 required. Officials rejected Tsepkalo's complaints that the ruling was biased.

Journalists arrested

Human rights group Viasna said more than 35 people had been arrested in Tuesday's unrest, including several journalists.

Rallies also occurred in a number of provincial cities, including Brest and Gomel.

Lukashenko, a former collective farm chief, has been president for 26 years. He will face four opposition candidates.

The election is still going ahead despite more than 65,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the ex-Soviet country of 9 million people. Lukashenko has refused to impose strict lockdown measures.

jsi/dr (AFP, Reuters)