Moscow, Aug 2 (efe-epa).- Three women have teamed up in Belarus to topple long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko in the country’s upcoming presidential elections.
They are headed by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who is running in the place of her husband, jailed opposition leader and blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky.
Thousands of supporters gathered at an election rally for the opposition candidates on Sunday in Baranovichy, a city in the Brest region with less than 250,000 inhabitants.
“There are more than 8,000 people present at the meeting with Tikhanovskaya in Baranovichi,” Viasna Human Rights Centre reported on its Telegram account.
Tikhanovskaya has teamed up with two other candidates who have been barred from taking part in the election.Veronika Tsepkalo is the wife of Valery Tsepkalo, who fled Belarus for Moscow out of fear of being arrested after being ousted as a candidate.
Maria Kolesnikova was involved in the campaign of Viktor Babariko, who was also stopped from running and has been arrested.
Babariko and Tsepkalo were the main rivals of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko until they were disqualified by the country’s Central Election Commission.
Baranovichy’s central square was completely packed with people carrying flags, banners of support, photos of the three women leading the campaign, and even religious icons.
The city is located halfway between Minsk and Brest, where Tikhanovskaya was due to hold a rally on Sunday afternoon.
“The further we go, the less afraid I am,” Tikhanovskaya said during the rally, according to new site Tut.by.
She spoke shortly after the news was released that one of her team’s representatives was arrested during a live broadcast on YouTube.
“The power is the people – you,” she said, referring to the large number of political prisoners and recent arrests for online blogs and signing petitions.
“In the new Belarus this will not happen,” she added.
Participants at the rally called for Maslovski’s release as well as other activists and bloggers.
Tensions have been rising in Belarus in the midst of a controversial election campaign marked by arrests of candidates and demonstrations against Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.
The country has seen an unprecedented mobilization of people in the streets before presidential elections which will take place on 9 August.
These demonstrations have been driven by aspirations of change and weariness with authorities after more than 25 years under the same leader.
More than 1,000 people have been arrested since the beginning of the country’s election campaign, according to Viasna.
It came after Belarusian authorities detained 32 Russians near Minsk on Wednesday, who were allegedly attempting to plan attacks to disrupt the elections.
Security forces have said they are searching for 200 others in the country and have imposed restrictions on mass gatherings, including meetings with candidates. EFE-EPA