Tens of thousands of supporters of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s top election rival on Thursday rallied in Minsk despite an increasing crackdown on the opposition.
The rally came as Belarusian authorities accused top members of the opposition of collaborating with Russian fighters to destabilize the ex-Soviet country.
Backers of political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a stay-at-home mother of two, packed a Minsk square in what appeared to be the largest opposition protest in the ex-Soviet country in a decade, a journalist said.
A sea of people waved flags and balloons emblazoned with the opposition’s campaign symbols — a victory sign, a clenched fist, and a heart.
“Change!” read one of the placards.
The human rights organization Vyasna said at least 63,000 people had turned out.
Earlier on Thursday, Belarusian investigators accused Tikhanovskaya’s husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, and another prominent critic, Mikola Statkevich, of working with Russian mercenaries to plot mass unrest ahead of the Aug. 9 election.
Tikhanovsky and Statkevich were jailed in the run-up to the polls.
The accusation that they were involved with Russian mercenaries was just the latest twist in an extraordinary election campaign in which the 65-year-old Lukashenko, who has dominated Belarus for nearly three decades, is seeking a sixth term in the face of rising anger over his rule.
Belarusian authorities on Wednesday detained 33 Russian “militants” on a mission to destabilize the ex-Soviet country. The detentions sparked an apparent crisis in ties with ally Moscow, which denied any involvement.
The authorities say the detained men are members of the Wagner group, a shadowy military contractor reportedly controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin that promotes Moscow’s interests in Syria, Libya and Ukraine.
Addressing her supporters at the rally, Tikhanovskaya, 37, said authorities were “ruining” not only her husband’s life but those of all political prisoners.
“The situation involving the fighters is very scary,” she said to shouts of “Freedom.”
She denied that the opposition was collaborating with the Russians to stage an uprising.
“People, what revolution? We want honest elections,” said Tikhanovskaya, who has emerged as Lukashenko’s top rival after main would-be candidates were jailed.
She questioned the timing of the arrests, saying that Russian private contractors might have been transiting through Belarus for a long time.
“I have a question: Where was the security service before and why are they raising this issue right before the election?” she said.
Investigators opened a criminal case against “Tikhanovsky, Statkevich and 33 detained Russian citizens.”
“They acted together,” spokesman Sergei Kabakovich said.
An Investigative Committee also said another criminal probe had been launched against Tikhanovsky for inciting “social hostility” and calling for violence against police.
Tikhanovsky, 41, is a popular blogger, who has nicknamed Lukashenko the “cockroach.”
Statkevich, 63, challenged Lukashenko in a 2010 election and was sentenced to six years in prison afterwards. Lukashenko’s top election rival, former banker Viktor Babaryko, has been accused of financial crimes and also jailed.
Moscow has denied any involvement.
Henry Tong (湯偉雄) and Elaine To (杜依蘭) were preparing to spend their first wedding anniversary in separate prison cells until their acquittal for rioting during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. There were gasps and tears of relief in court on Friday last week as a judge declared prosecutors had failed to prove that the couple took part in clashes with police in July last year. The pair walked free in a ruling that has potential consequences for hundreds of other protesters facing similar charges. However, they have a long journey ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and business. “We have already been punished,”
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable
BEIJING REACTS: China announced that Hong Kong’s extradition treaties with Canada, Australia and Britain would be suspended after those nations acted earlier New Zealand yesterday announced that it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The move came after China passed sweeping new security legislation for the territory. New Zealand is the final member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance to take such action after the Australia, Britain, Canada and the US previously announced similar measures. New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said that the new legislation goes against commitments China made to the international community. “New Zealand can no longer trust that Hong Kong’s criminal justice system is sufficiently independent from China,” Peters said. Moreover, Wellington would treat military and technology exports to