The Belarusian opposition's main presidential candidate has held two mass rallies as the campaign heats up to unseat authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in next month's election.
The campaigns of three opposition figures said earlier this week they would unify around presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to "defeat" the "longtime dictatorial regime."
Tsikhanouskaya and representatives of two opposition candidates who were denied registration as presidential candidates, former Belgazprombank head Viktar Babaryka and prominent businessman Valer Tsapkala, appeared at the July 19 rallies in Minsk and the nearby city of Dzyarzhynsk.
Tsikhanouskaya told several thousand in attendance that the authorities did not register Babaryka and Tsapkala because they were scared.
"They saw a threat to the government, but they did not understand that the threat is not in the candidates, but in the people themselves, who are tired of living in humiliation and fear," Tsikhanouskaya said.
Unlike at recent demonstrations, the authorities allowed the gathering and the police didn't intervene.
Lukashenka faces mounting public opposition to his 26 years in power ahead of the August 9 election.
The 65-year-old strongman has dismissed the coronavirus as nothing more than a "psychosis" and refused any lockdown measures. Meanwhile, the already weak economy is expected to contract by 4 percent this year, according to the World Bank.
Hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers, have been arrested as the government cracks down on rallies and demonstrations despite calls for restraint from Western governments and international institutions, including the United Nations.
Tsikhanouskaya became a presidential candidate because her jailed husband, well-known vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, was incarcerated after he openly expressed his intention to run for president.
The united opposition campaigns are urging all voters to cast ballots for Tsikhanouskaya and to protect the election against possible fraud.
Their program includes the release of all "political and economic prisoners" and new trials for each of them, a pledge to hold "an honest repeat election after August 9," and a desire to cooperate on creating a program to combat electoral fraud and to monitor the presidential poll.
On July 14, the Central Election Commission registered five candidates for the presidential poll, including Tsikhanouskaya and Lukashenka.
Babaryka, who was viewed as a potentially potent rival to Lukashenka, was denied registration. He was jailed in June on suspicion of money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion. He denies the charges and says they are politically motivated. The government also took over Belgazprombank on June 15.
Amnesty International has proclaimed Babaryka and his son, Eduard, who was arrested with his father on June 18, to be prisoners of conscience.
Tsapkala's attempt to register was foiled after election officials disqualified at least 38,000 of the signatures he had submitted in support of his candidacy.
After the election commission announced the disqualification of candidates, a wave of protests rocked the country and hundreds of people were detained, including at least 17 members of the press covering the demonstrations.
Lukashenka has rejected Western criticism of the government's violent dispersal of the demonstrations and the disqualification of candidates.
The Belarusian leader has ruled the country since 1994 and is currently serving his fifth term as president. Belarus abolished presidential term limits in 2004.