Surging Belarusian Presidential Candidate Plans Three Rallies Amid Security Concerns

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MINSK — Belarusian presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whose recent campaign events have drawn large crowds, is scheduled to hold three rallies on August 1.

Tsikhanouskaya, who announced her candidacy only after her husband was arrested last month after he expressed his intention to run for the presidency, will appear at rallies in Grodno, Volkovysk, and Slonim.

Tsikhanouskaya has said that all events planned for her campaign would proceed despite a warning from the Belarusian Security Council about the need for additional security measures at public events.

The warning came after Belarusian authorities this week said they had detained 33 Russian mercenaries who authorities allege wanted to destabilize the country ahead of the election. Moscow has rejected the claims, saying the men were only transiting through Belarus on their way to Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office said Kyiv would ask Belarus to hand over 28 of the detainees on charges of fighting alongside Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

At least 63,000 supporters turned out for Tsikhanouskaya’s rally in Minsk on July 30, according to the Vyasna human rights center, making it one of the largest opposition rallies in the country since the start of the campaign for the August 9 presidential election.

Tsikhanouskaya and several other candidates are running to unseat President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who is facing mounting public opposition after 26 years in power.

The campaign has become contentious since the arrest of hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers, as the government has cracked down on rallies and demonstrations supporting opposition candidates.

Tsikhanouskaya spoke on July 31 in Lida, promising peace and an increase in pensions. She asked civil servants not to be afraid to express their opinion and not to falsify election results, even if threatened with dismissal.

Only about 300 people turned out for the event, but participants told RFE/RL’s Belarus Service that rain was a factor and they said more people would have come if the rally had been held more centrally or at a location easy to reach on public transportation.

The 37-year-old former teacher also mentioned her husband, popular vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, who remains in jail.

The Investigative Committee of Belarus said Tsikhanouski has been charged with “committing actions to incite social hatred and the assault of law enforcement officers.”

A statement from the committee on June 30 said Tsikhanouski, along with veteran opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich, who was also jailed in the run-up to the polls, and several unnamed individuals were charged with preparing mass disorder, a crime that may be punished by up to eight years in prison.

Tsikhanouskaya has rejected the new accusations against her husband.

With reporting by Reuters

News – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

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