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Mikalay Statkevich speaks during a rally in support of opposition politicians seeking to become presidential candidates in Minsk on May 24.

MINSK -- Prominent Belarusian opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich and several bloggers have been sentenced to 15 days in jail as part of a widening crackdown on dissent in the country ahead of elections.

Statkevich was already sentenced on June 1 to 15 days in jail for taking part in an "unauthorized" opposition event in Minsk to collect signatures for petitions to support would-be candidates for the upcoming elections.

Opposition rallies and gatherings in support of would-be candidates have attracted thousands of people across Belarus in recent weeks ahead of the August presidential election in which authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is seeking a sixth term.

Dozens of activists and politicians have been harassed and arrested.

Statkevich’s wife, Maryna Adamovich, wrote on Facebook on June 15 that her husband was sentenced to another 15 days in the absence of a lawyer.

Statkevich -- who challenged Lukashenka in the 2010 election, which was marred by allegations of fraud -- has been barred from running in the August election. He was previously sentenced to six years in prison and released in 2015.

Also on June 15, bloggers Eduard Palchys, Uladzimer Tsyhanovich, and Mikalay Maslouski were sentenced to 15 days for taking part in "unauthorized" events.

Another activist, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a jailed Belarusian vlogger who is seeking to take part in the August presidential election, may face up to three years in prison for organizing pro-democracy rallies.

Since Tsikhanouski's candidacy was rejected, his wife, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has been trying to get registered as a candidate herself, collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures to qualify.

Investigators are also targeting Belgazprombank's former chief executive, Viktar Babaryka, who stepped down from the bank to run against Lukashenka.

On June 15, authorities took control of the bank, which is the local unit of Russia's Gazprombank, as part of a wider money-laundering and corruption probe that has already led to the arrest of 15 executives.

Babaryka says the raids are designed to apply political pressure on him.

Muhammedkalyi Abylgaziev announced his resignation, saying the government "must enjoy the full confidence of citizens." (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev has resigned, citing an ongoing criminal investigation into the assignment of national radio frequencies.

Abylgaziev announced his resignation in a statement on June 15, saying: "I have nothing to do with this case, and the accusations made against me have no basis."

Noting he hadn’t been questioned, Abylgaziev said the corruption probe undermined trust in the government and limited its ability to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

"In today's difficult conditions, when the country confronts the threat of coronavirus infection and struggles with its impact on the economy, the government must work in a state of stability and enjoy the full confidence of citizens," Abylgaziev said.

Lawmakers had raised suspicions over his involvement in the suspect sale of radio frequencies involving a leading cable television company and a major telecoms company, even though he has not been named as a suspect by the investigators.

Abylgaziev took a two-week leave of absence on May 27 "in order to avoid accusations of exerting any pressure on the course of the investigation."

He was appointed as prime minister by President Sooronbai Jeenbekov in April 2018.

Jeenbekov's Social Democratic Party leads a majority coalition in parliament, which must now nominate a new prime minister.

With reporting by AFP

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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