Hundreds Protest Opposition Candidates’ Lockout in Belarus

Hundreds marched in Minsk Tuesday after Belarus’ election officials refused to register two top opposition candidates for the August 9 presidential election. “We are categorically for honest and fair elections,” said one protester. It is unclear how many people were arrested Tuesday. The election commission allowed five candidates to put their names on the ballot but denied spots to opposition candidates Valery Tsepkalo and Viktor Babariko. Both are seen as the only serious competitors to longtime incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. Tsepkalo is a former Belarusian ambassador to the United States. Election officials claim most of the names on the petition to place him on the ballot are invalid.Police officers detain protesters during a rally against the removal of opposition candidates from the presidential elections in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.Babariko, the former head of a Russia-owned bank, was jailed last month for alleged money laundering, a charge he denies.  European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borell says excluding Tsepkalo and Babariko “limits the possibility for the Belarusian people to express their will and already undermines the overall integrity and democratic nature of the elections.” Political observers say leaving the two off the ballot assures Lukashenko of another term. He has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 26 years, stifling free speech and cracking down on the opposition and independent media. Lukashenko has tried to overcome his image as an authoritarian by drifting away from Russia and seeking better ties with the United States and European leaders.  

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