Belarusian authorities have again canceled campaign events by presidential contender Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya ahead of the August 9 election, claiming that repair work needed to be carried out where the political rallies were to be held.
In the city of Slutsk, located 100 kilometers south of the capital, Minsk, local authorities on August 4 said there was an “urgent” need for repair work at an event place and announced that a planned opposition rally was canceled.
Riot police and plainclothes officers then detained at least 17 people as hundreds of opposition supporters gathered for the political rally, according the Vyasna human rights center. Among those detained was the editor of a local news website.
Tsikhanouskaya was also forced to cancel a rally in the city of Salihorsk, scheduled for the evening of August 4 after the one in Slutsk.
Local authorities in Salihorsk, about 130 kilometers south of Minsk, brought excavators to dig up the ground at a stadium where the rally was to be held and told campaign organizers that the event was canceled.
Police then dispersed people who had come to the rally and arrested at least five people.
The day before, authorities in the city of Stolbtsy disrupted a meeting organized by Tikhanouskaya's campaign by driving construction equipment to the local stadium.
Analysts say the authorities can't cancel Tikhanouskaya's rallies because they are legal, but they can use construction and other pretexts as an excuse to disrupt campaign events and claim they are unauthorized.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's 26 years of authoritarian rule looks increasingly vulnerable ahead of the August 9 presidential election, although most analysts say he will likely win through a combination of fraud and repression against an energized opposition.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have attended daily rallies in recent weeks in support of Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old political novice backed by disqualified presidential candidates.
The lead-up to the vote has been marred by dubious disqualifications and an unprecedented scale of detentions and other persecution against a backdrop of a pandemic and pro-democracy protests.
With about 6.8 million eligible voters, Belarus began early voting on August 4; it will continue through August 8.
However, most voters are expected to cast their ballots on August 9. The Central Election Commission said on August 5 that turnout on August 4 was just under 5 percent of all eligible voters.