Belarusian dictator faces mass protests after imprisoning his main rivals

Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet republic with more than 9 million people since 1994 and has been running for the sixth time in an election scheduled for August 9, and has long received international criticism to suppress the opposition, and the country’s secret police – still known KGB – often opposition activists and independent journalists. he detained and harassed.

On Friday, demonstrations in which thousands of people marched on the streets of 10 cities were driven by a series of arrests, which opposition activists called an attempt to remove popular candidates from the presidential race. Two of Lukashenko’s main rivals are now KGB and police in custody: former YouTube journalist Sergei Tikhanovskiy, who was detained in late May, and former Belgazprombank chief Viktor Babaryko, who was arrested on June 18 with his son and campaign manager Eduard Babaryko, according to their campaigns.

According to the organizers, following the latest news of the arrest, activists began to form “chains of solidarity”, some of which span several kilometers. local media reports.
Independent non-governmental organization Vias onBelarus reported on Saturday that at least 120 people were detained overnight, including many journalists, following Saturday’s protest activities.

On Friday, Lukashenko said the protests were a foreign conspiracy and claimed that the country’s law enforcement officers “blocked a Maidan”.

“We managed to take some steps ahead of planning and to disrupt the large-scale plan to destabilize Belarus,” according to the state-run news agency. BelTA. “We have shown the real faces of the puppets we spent here and the puppeteers living outside of Belarus.”

“Don’t let me choose. If I treat myself democratically, if I show them that I am so warm and blurry, I have a chance to lose the country altogether.”

Babaryko is considered to be Lukashenko’s main rival in this presidential election. Campaign He says they have collected 425,000 signatures to support the nomination that has passed 100,000 signatures.

The country does not have reliable independent political polls, but in early June, a breast in Sasha’s social media tended to “Sasha three percent” and refer to low figures for Lukashenko in unofficial surveys from independent online stores. Sasha is the nickname of Alexander.

& # 39; It is better to die standing than live on your knees, & # 39; says Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in an ice hockey match

Eduard Babaryko’s girlfriend said in a Facebook post that she was questioned at the KGB detention center on tax evasion charges. For Viktor Babaryko, lawyers said they could not visit their clients. As of Saturday, Babarykos was not released.

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Before the arrest, a series of police raids were carried out in Babaryko’s offices and in the apartments of his family members. President of the Belarusian State Control Committee Ivan Tertel said that 20 current and former bank executives affiliated to Babaryko have been arrested on various charges, including tax evasion and embezzlement, and confessed that “Babaryko is the organizer of a penalty plan”.

Babaryko denies any injustice and says expenses they were politically motivated.
Protesters held their hands in the air during a rally in Minsk on June 19.

Lukashenko claimed that several candidates working against him in this election had ties with Russia. Several Belarusian stores that have named Belgazprombank, a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, as a “Kremlin-linked candidate” to Babaryko for the past 20 years. Babaryko himself denied the allegations and asked the media not to call him a pro-Russian candidate. Lukashenko has long established close ties with Russia, which has close economic ties and customs union with Belarus.

“[Lukashenko] This is because of the deep integration roadmap with Russia … Belarus lost its sovereignty and created a wave of public anger, “said Babaryko, Russia’s independent news outlet RBC. “So now a hint that something has been done for Russia or for the benefit of another state [negative] Reaction in the Belarusian society. “

The Kremlin also denied supporting Babaryko and charges against Gazprom.

President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 20, 2019.

“The Kremlin has no candidates in the Belarusian elections,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier this week. Said.

According to Peskov, Putin and Lukashenko made a phone call this week but did not discuss the situation around Belgazprombank. Lukashenko is expected to visit Moscow next week to participate in the redesigned Victory Day parade in Red Square.

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The British and US governments condemned the arrests and urged Belarus officials to respect their citizens’ peaceful protest rights.

“The United States is supporting the Belarusian government’s international commitments to respect fundamental freedoms by allowing the Belarusian people to come together and release the arrested freely, including journalists covering the peaceful meeting tonight,” the Minsk Embassy in the United States said on Twitter. calling.” Said. chirp.

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