Protests began in Minsk and several other cities across Belarus after the country’s Central Election Commission refused to register potential candidates Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo in the presidential election. Both Babariko and Tsepkalo were considered main challengers to current president Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 consecutive years.
According to RFE/RL’s Belarusian service Radio Svaboda, spontaneous gatherings began in several locations in the capital city of Minsk. A column of several hundred people began marching down the city’s main street, Independence Avenue. Drivers also honked their horns in protest. In response, law-enforcement officials blocked the street and began making arrests.
Protests are also happening in Brest, Mogilev, Gomel, Grodno, Molodechno, and other cities across the country. These rallies saw between several dozen and several hundred participants, the Belarusian news outlet TUT.by reports.
Belarus is set to hold presidential elections on August 9. On July 14, the Central Election Commission announced the registration of five presidential candidates, including the current president Alexander Lukashenko and opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whose husband, Belarusian blogger Sergey Tikhanovsky, was arrested at the end of May in connection with an alleged case of violence against police officers.
In the lead up to the presidential campaigns, Viktor Babariko, the former head of “Belgazprombank,” emerged as the leading alternative candidate and the main opponent for current president Alexander Lukashenko, along with former Belarusian ambassador to the U.S., Valery Tsepkalo. The Central Election Commission barred Tspekalo from taking part in the election after rejecting the majority of his supporting signatures. Babariko, on the other hand, was banned from the race for allegedly possessing undeclared assets in offshore accounts.
After the start of campaigning, Babariko was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention on money laundering, tax evasion, and bribery charges. Babariko’s arrest sparked mass protests in downtown Minsk on June 18, which saw 2,000 demonstrators rally in support of arrested politicians and activists.