At least 250 arrested in Belarus protests, rights groups says

MINSK (REUTERS) – Belarusian police detained at least 250 people during protests after the authorities refused to register President Alexander Lukashenko’s two main rivals as candidates in a presidential election, rights group Vesna 96 said on Wednesday (July 15).

Vesna 96 published a list of all those it said had been detained on Tuesday following the central election commission’s decision. Police did not immediately comment.

Mr Lukashenko, who has allowed little dissent in his 26-year rule, is all but certain of winning the Aug 9 election though he has faced mass protests this year.

Several hundred people took to the streets of the capital Minsk after the central election commission’s decision on Tuesday, and reports on social media said there were protests in other Belarusian cities.

In central Minsk, protesters periodically broke into applause – a trademark of their recent protests. Reuters witnesses saw police blocking off the main streets and detaining protesters.

The European Union delegation to Belarus said the election commission’s decision “undermines the overall integrity and democratic nature of the elections”.

Viktor Babariko, a banker who was detained last month, was excluded from the ballot because of a criminal case against him, the commission said. Mr Valery Tsepkalo, a former ambassador who runs an office park for tech companies, was also rejected, after signatures on a supporting petition were nullified.

The two men had been widely seen as the last candidates left with a chance of defeating Mr Lukashenko, who faces growing public frustration over the economy, human rights and his playing down of the Covid-19 pandemic in the former Soviet republic.

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