Belarus: mass arrests, clashes with the police, “foreign mercenaries” ahead of elections
The Belarusian authorities have announced the arrest of 32 Russian mercenaries.
State media sources report that there are a total of 200 mercenaries in Belarus. Their alleged goal is to destabilise the situation leading up to the August 9 presidential elections.
These elections have turned into a standoff between current president Alexander Lukashenko and united opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years. Independent experts say his approval rating does not exceed 7 percent.
Tsikhanouskaya — the opposition candidate
Tsikhanouskaya became a presidential candidate after her husband, entrepreneur and popular blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who was planning to run, was arrested.
Tsikhanouskaya’s platform seems simple — to hold new, free elections in Belarus within 6 months.
Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign headquarters has merged with the headquarters of two other candidates who were not registered by the authorities: Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo. The first, along with his son, is under arrest, the second was forced to leave the country.
Protests and detentions
The situation started to heat up in Belarus after a July 18 protest in Minsk in support of the candidates who had not been put on the ballot.
It was impossible to determine the number of their participants, since the demonstrations were held simultaneously in different parts of the city, but there were at least several hundred of people. Almost immediately after the start of the protests, violent detentions and clashes with the police broke out. At least 239 people were detained in Minsk.
Some of them were injured during their arrest, as police and riot police officers beat the protesters in the face and twisted their arms. Also arrested were journalists from several agencies, including Belsat, Tut.by, BBC, RFE/RL and a number of others.
Immediately after these events, Tsikhanouskaya began her pre-election campaign around the country. Her rallies have attracted extraordinary attention: in cities with a population of 30,000-40,000 people, 7,000-8,000 are in attendance.
Independent experts and journalists in Belarus agree that the story of the detained foreign mercenaries is an attempt by President Lukashenko to intimidate the electorate with the threat of Russian interference.