Belarus presidential election: Police storm opposition headquarters as vote begins

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SERGEI GAPON/AFP

Voting is underway in Belarus for the country’s presidential election.

The eve of the main election day was marked by the detention of Marya Maroz, the campaign manager of the main opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, after police stormed her headquarters on Saturday.

Euronews understands Tikhanovskaya herself has gone into hiding, while another prominent opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova, was briefly detained too.

At least 10 people were also put in custody on Saturday evening, in Minsk, as hundreds of opposition supporters drove through the city centre waving flags and brandishing clenched-fist victory signs from the vehicles’ windows.

On Sunday, polls opened at 8.00am local time and are set to close twelve hours later, but early voting took place across Belarus since Tuesday. Authorities reported a 41.7% turnout so far.

Results are expected to be announced on Monday. If no candidate gets more than 50% another round is to be held in two weeks.

Checkpoints are currently being placed around Minsk’s main road intersections and government buildings are being fenced off as protests might take place later during the day.

At the same time, there are multiple reports internet is getting slower and many news sites are down.

The main contenders of the election are incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is challenging Lukashenko’s uninterrupted 26-year rule.

The 37-year-old English teacher decided to enter the presidential race only in May, after her husband and popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky got jailed and barred from running.

The election campaign has been shaken by months of protests across the country and hundreds of detentions.

Several potential opposition candidates were barred from running – most notably, Victor Babariko, who was arrested amid fraud charges, and Valery Tsepkalo, after some signatures he collected were invalidated by the electoral commission (CEC). Tsepkalo’s now fled to Russia amid arrest fears.

International observers are also concerned about the fairness of the electoral process after the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), an international body that assesses the fairness of elections, announced it was pulling out of a planned mission to the eastern European country due to a late invitation by the Belarusian authorities, leaving, according to experts and human rights activists, no credible observers overseeing the election.

Observer group Honest People told Euronews more than people have been detained since the voting began in the country.

Belarus presidential election: Police storm opposition headquarters as vote begins

Belarusian police officers detain a man in Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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