Belarusian opposition mobilises supporters ahead of presidential election

Tens of thousands of supporters of President Alexander Lukashenko's top election rival hit the streets for a huge opposition rally in Minsk on Thursday, news wires reported. Political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya mobilised some 63,000 people, human rights organisation Viasna said. It marks the biggest opposition action in the ex-Soviet Republic in years.

Opponents of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko are pinning all their hopes on 37-year-old Tikhanovskaya, who plans to challenge the longtime leader on 9 August.  Her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, a prominent blogger, is one of two main opponents who have been jailed and denied registration to get onto the ballot. The other is Viktor Barbariko. A third strong potential candidate, Valery Tsepkalo, has fled to Russia.

Lukashenko has repeatedly accused the opposition of stoking unrest and planning to topple him with foreign assistance. Tikhanovskaya rejected these allegations at the rally. If she wins, Tikhanovskaya plans to hold new elections and free all political detainees, including her husband, she said at the rally. Lukashenko is running for a sixth term in office.

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