A sea of people has filled a park for a rally in support of Svetlana Tikhanovskya, opposition candidate in the Belarussian election set for next week, in what is reported to be the biggest anti-government protest in a decade.
Thousands of people flocked to the ‘Druzhba’ [Friendship] park in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, on Thursday to voice support for Tikhanovskya, who has emerged as a top challenger to the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko after several prominent opposition candidates were disqualified from the race.
According to estimates by Belarusian human rights group ‘Viasna,’ at least 63,000 people joined the rally-slash-concert. Attendees sang along in Russian, while flashing cell phone lights and waving balloons, red-and-green state banners as well as historical white-red-white flags.
The latest data from @viasna96: at least 63,000 rallied tonight in #Minsk. It’s one of the largest rallies in #Belarus then. Also,the site is not popular in the city. Security measure were increased,too. Usually,pre-election rallies were not popular at all pic.twitter.com/6l2xEuqdxR
— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) July 30, 2020
Tikhanovskya first addressed the rally in Belarussian, and then switched to Russian. She said that she rejects revolution, and wants “peaceful changes” through “fair elections.”
The rally proceeded incident-free, with no arrests or disruptions reported.
Я был на концерте Макса Коржа на стадионе динамо в Минске, но это даже близко не сравнится по атмосфере с тем, что я видел сегодня. pic.twitter.com/t98NpIXIA7
— Igor Kabushkov (@VKL_Vitayt) July 30, 2020
Tikhanovskya’s husband, YouTuber Sergei Tikhanovsky, remains in jail on charges of obstructing elections and interfering with the work of the Central Electoral Commission. On Thursday, he faced additional charges of inciting mass riots which were tied by the country’s investigative committee to the case of 33 suspected Russian mercenaries arrested in Minsk earlier this week.
The Belarussin security chief identified them as the members of the ‘Wagner Group’ – a shady company providing mercenary services throughout the world said to be operating from Russia.
While speculation has been rife as to how the arrest of alleged Wagner-linked contractors might impact the looming vote, Lukashenko himself did not point any fingers, ordering a thorough probe into the incident and saying that he has “no intention of smearing an allied nation” without getting to the bottom of the case.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on Thursday that 33 Russian citizens were arrested in Belarus, and that another warrant had been issued for 200 more. He said that Moscow is so far unaware of any illegal activities incriminating the Russian citizens, adding he expects their rights to be respected during the investigation.
Presidential elections in Belarus will be held on August 9, and the results are likely to hand reelection to Lukashenko, who is polling high at 72.3 percent, with Tikhanovskya lagging far behind at 7.5 percent, according to the latest Ecoom’s survey poll.
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