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Freed Political Prisoner Calls For Boycott Of Belarusian Vote
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MINSK -- It's been a humdrum presidential election campaign in Belarus.

Serious contenders have been sidelined and authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in office for more than two decades, is expected to easily secure a fifth term.

The campaign's unexpected highlight came on September 23, when opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich urged voters to stay away from the poll on October 11 during a rare unsanctioned protest.

Hundreds of supporters flocked to downtown Minsk to hear Statkevich, who denounced the absence of any prominent opposition figure in the vote.

The three candidates cleared by Belarus's Central Election Commission to run against Lukashenka are the leaders of two pro-government parties and Tatsyana Karatkevich, a relatively obscure candidate representing the opposition movement Havary Pravdu (Tell the Truth).

Well-known opposition figures have criticized Karatkevich for ignoring their calls for a boycott and helping lend legitimacy to an election they condemn as a farce.

"There are no opposition candidates in the elections," Statkevich told RFE/RL at the rally.

Statkevich himself ran against Lukashenka in 2010 but was jailed after the vote.

He was released from prison last month amid what is widely seen as Lukashenka's efforts to mend ties with the West.

The atmosphere was said to be similar to protests held ahead of elections in 2006 and 2010.
The atmosphere was said to be similar to protests held ahead of elections in 2006 and 2010.

RFE/RL journalists present at the rally said that many young people attended and that the atmosphere was similar to protests held ahead of elections in 2006 and 2010.

Unlike previous rallies ahead of elections, however, this week's protest was not violently disbanded by the police -- another indication that Lukashenka is striking a more conciliatory tone.

The Afghan presidency says President Ashraf Ghani has undertaken "serious measures" to prevent sexual abuse of children in the country.

Ghani's office quoted him as telling "all security authorities of the country" via video teleconference on September 23 that "the laws, culture, and religious values of the people of Afghanistan recognize sexual abuse of children as one of the severest crimes and violations of human rights."

Ghani directed all ranks of the Afghan defense and security forces to prevent "any such acts through taking instructive, reformative, and punitive measures."

The move follows reports that Afghan forces who worked with U.S. military personnel sexually assaulted boys, and that U.S. troops were told to ignore suspicions of abuse.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, said on September 22 that President Ghani had assured him the government "will not tolerate abuse of its children."

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