Vatican News

Belarus president faces unprecedented opposition in vote

Voters in Belarus go to the polls on Sunday amid mounting protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's longest-ruling head-of-state.

By Stefan J. Bos

Belarussians crowded polling stations despite the ongoing the coronavirus pandemic, though many were seen wearing masks. Lukashenko, who dismissed fears over COVID-19 as a "psychosis" and recommended drinking vodka, is seeking a six-term in office.

Though he was due to win, the 65-year-old's grip-on-power has been questioned by his younger and inexperienced rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37. Tens of thousands of people attended her rallies, including the largest since the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

The former English teacher has been campaigning on behalf of her jailed husband, the popular online blogger Syarhei Tsikhanousky. He has remained in jail since his arrest in May on charges of assailing a police officer. He has dismissed the allegations as a provocation.

Last week, Belarusian authorities opened a new probe against him on charges of planning to stage "mass riots" with 33 Russian private security contractors detained the previous month. Russia has rejected the allegations, saying the men were en route to another country.

Tikhanovskaya is concerned about her family. "I received a phone call saying that they would put me in jail and send my children to an orphanage," she recalled.

Children of opponent sent outside country

Tikhanovskaya said she sent her 10-year-old son and five-year-old daughter to a European nation that she declined to name because of threats. She made the difficult choice because "There must be a symbol of freedom."   

More than 1,000 people have been detained for taking part in opposition protests in recent months. Media have been targeted as well. Over the weekend news emerged that freelance journalist Alexander Burakov of Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) was detained.

Burakov, who reports from Belarus for DW's Russian-language service, was given a 10-day prison sentence on Friday after being arrested earlier in the week, the broadcaster said. He has denied the charges of "petty hooliganism" and is considering appealing, said DW, which condemned the ruling.

His arrest comes as the unusually strong demonstrations by opposition supporters continue. They come amid public frustration with the nation's troubled economy, political repression, and perceived weak response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report
09 August 2020, 16:47