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Exiled Belarusian Opposition Activist Returns Ahead Of Election


Vyachaslau Siuchyk back in Minsk on September 15
Vyachaslau Siuchyk back in Minsk on September 15

MINSK -- Opposition activist Vyachaslau Siuchyk has returned to Belarus after five years of self-imposed exile in Ukraine, becoming the second government foe to come home ahead of an October 11 presidential election.

Siuchyk's wife, mother, and friends met the activist at a train station in Minsk on September 15.

While he held out no hope for a free and fair election, Siuchyk suggested the political landscape could be shifting following Russia's intervention in neighboring Ukraine, which has raised alarm about Moscow's intentions in other ex-Soviet republics.

He told RFE/RL that his decision to return was linked to the presidential election and the "necessity for the Belarusian opposition to deal with the new political situation caused by Russia's aggression against Ukraine."

Authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who is expected to prolong his 21-year rule in the election, has used the idea of a potential threat from Russia to burnish his image in recent months.

While stressing the "brotherly relations" between Russia and Belarus, Lukashenka has said several times that he personally -- and the Belarusian nation as a whole -- would fight off any attack.

He has also pardoned several opposition politicians who were jailed in a crackdown following a December 2010 presidential election, a move seen as an effort to improve ties with the West.

Siuchyk left Belarus amid the crackdown. In Ukraine, he actively participated in the pro-Western Euromaidan protests that pushed Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014.

Lukashenka has stifled dissent and extended his rule through votes considered illegitimate in the West. The sole opposition candidate who secured a place on the October 11 presidential ballot rejected calls by some other opponents of Lukashenka to withdraw and boycott the election.

"I do not have any thoughts regarding elections and candidates," Siuchyk told RFE/RL. "Because, unfortunately, the Belarusian nation has been deprived of the right to elect its government."

Last week, 2010 presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich returned to Belarus after years in exile in the Czech Republic. He told RFE/RL that he decided to return because he thought it was the "right time" to come back.

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