Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko said yesterday the country's sovereignty was under threat as police detained around 140 people during protests against his rule ahead of August 9 polls.
Lukashenko, who has dismissed the coronavirus epidemic as a hoax, is seeking a sixth term, having brooked no dissent during his nearly three decades in power.
Many of his critics have been jailed in recent weeks and yesterday he said Belarus faced a major risk to its sovereignty and independence.
"I never thought there would be people in Belarus who would like to destroy the country," he said as he unveiled a monument in the country's east.
"No one will be allowed to betray or destroy what you and me have been building for a quarter of a century."
Opposition figures have fought hard to get on the ballot and enjoy robust support from the public, observers say.
Bucking expectations, a number of activists collected at least 100,000 signatures from supporters to be eligible to run.
Lukashenko's main rival Viktor Babaryko, a 56-year-old former banker, has collected 435,000 signatures, his aides say.
"People are tired of Lukashenko," said Vladimir Orlov, a 66-year-old writer.
In response to the simmering anger and criticism, Lukashenko has unleashed a crackdown on would-be election rivals and other opposition figures.
On Friday evening, people lined the streets in the capital Minsk and other cities for a second day of protests.
Valery Tsepkalo, a popular would-be opposition candidate, joined those rallies but police moved in to break them up.
As a result, around 140 people -- including 80 in Minsk -- were detained, the Vyasna rights group said. Detentions also took place in Vitebsk, Brest, Mogilev and other cities.