Thousands Attend Three Rallies Organized By Belarusian Opposition Presidential Candidate
By RFE/RL's Belarus Service August 01, 2020
MINSK -- Belarusian presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whose recent campaign events have drawn large crowds, staged three rallies on August 1 ahead of the country's August 9 election.
Tsikhanouskaya was appearing on August 1 at rallies in the Belarusian towns of Hrodno, Vaukavysk, and Slonim.
Thousands of people were attended the rallies, with aerial footage of the event in Hrodno showing a large crowd gathered near a stage from where she spoke.
Tsikhanouskaya announced her candidacy after her husband, vlogger and activist Syarhey Tsikhanouski, was arrested and banned from the election after he had expressed his intention to run for the presidency.
"He was detained and thrown into jail. But it just so happens that he had a wife who also wants changes!" Tsikhanouskaya told the cheering crowd in Hrodno.
Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former teacher, 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 earlier this week detained 33 contractors from the Russian private military group Vagner on allegations that they were trying to destabilize the country ahead of the election.
Moscow has rejected the claims, saying the contractors were only transiting through Belarus on their way to Turkey and "a third country."
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 Investigative Committee of Belarus says Tsikhanouskaya's husband 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 was charged with preparing mass disorder -- along with veteran opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich, who was also jailed in the run-up to the polls, and several unnamed individuals.
If convicted, they could be sentenced to eight years in prison.
Tsikhanouskaya has rejected the charges against her husband.
With reporting by Current Time and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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