Belarus detains dozens ahead of polls as tensions mount | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 21, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:59 PM, June 20, 2020

Belarus detains dozens ahead of polls as tensions mount

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.

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