USA

Belarus 5-Term President Faces Strong Challenge

Belarusians vote Sunday in a presidential election in which opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is challenging the five-term authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Tikhanovskaya, 37, a stay-at-home mother, entered the race after the May arrest of her husband, opposition blogger and presidential hopeful Sergei Tikhanovsky, with the promise to free political prisoners and call new elections.

Tikhanovsky, 41, was charged with attacking a police officer and organizing mass unrest. He has rejected the charges as provocations.

Although Tikhanovskaya, a teacher of English and German by training, lacked political experience, she quickly emerged as the country's top opposition figure and Lukashenko’s strongest challenger, with tens of thousands of Belarusians supporting her bid.

Election officials registered Tikhanovskaya, likely considering her to have no chance of winning, while refusing to register two other potential presidential challengers -- Valery Tsepkalo, a former diplomat, and Viktor Babary, an ex-banker, who is now in jail.

Police in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, made 10 arrests Saturday evening as hundreds of opposition supporters drove through the center of the city waving flags and brandishing victory signs from vehicles.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since Belarus declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is running for a sixth term in office, while the country is experiencing an increase in opposition protests against his autocratic rule and economic difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

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