Belarus detains dozens at opposition protests

Belarus' riot police officers detain an opposition supporter during a gathering to support candidates seeking to challenge President Alexander Lukashenko in August's polls in Minsk on June 19, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2020

Belarus detains dozens at opposition protests

  • In power since 1994, Lukashenko, 65, is seeking a sixth term in the August presidential election
  • A number of journalists with foreign media outlets were detained

MINSK, Belarus: Around 140 people have been detained during opposition protests in Belarus, the Vyasna rights group said Saturday, as President Alexander Lukashenko ramps up a crackdown on critics ahead of polls.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko, 65, is seeking a sixth term in the August presidential election.
Opposition figures have fought hard to get on the ballot, and a number of opponents — including Lukashenko’s strongest election rival Viktor Babaryko — have been jailed in the runup to the August 9 vote.
Friday was the last day for candidates seeking to challenge the incumbent to gather ballot-access signatures from supporters.
On Friday evening their supporters lined the streets in the capital Minsk and other cities to support Lukashenko’s critics but police moved in to break those gatherings.
As a result, around 140 people — including 80 in Minsk — were detained, the Vyasna rights group said.
Detentions also took place in Bobruisk, Vitebsk, Brest, Mogilev and other cities.
Five people including a minor have been beaten, the rights group said.
A number of journalists with foreign media outlets were detained, including a correspondent for Radio Free Europe’s Belarusian service who was led away by plain-clothed officers while filming a live video.
Some people were released late Friday, while others were waiting for a court hearing.
A freelance video journalist on assignment for Reuters new agency was among those detained in Minsk, said an agency spokesperson, before being released.
On Thursday, Lukashenko’s main rival Babaryko, a 56-year-old former banker, was arrested on suspicion of financial crimes.
He formerly headed Belgazprombank, a Belarus subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom. A total of around 20 people have been detained in connection with investigations linked to Belgazprombank.
Lukashenko announced that authorities had foiled a foreign plot to stage a popular uprising in Belarus.
The detention of Babaryko came after authorities jailed other critics including prominent opposition politician Mikola Statkevich and popular vlogger Sergei Tikhanovsky.
The run-up to the presidential vote has seen a flurry of opposition activity, in stark contrast to the incumbent’s traditional Soviet approach to campaigning.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an international election and war monitor, has not recognized any polls in Belarus as free and fair since 1995.


Joint US military drills get thumbs down from Thais amid coronavirus fears

Updated 2 min 28 sec ago

Joint US military drills get thumbs down from Thais amid coronavirus fears

  • Some 106 American soldiers will join three separate exercises from Aug. 18 to 30
  • ‘Is it really necessary to take in foreign soldiers now? If it does not impact the relationship just postpone it’

BANGKOK: This month’s joint US-Thai military exercises in Thailand have drawn criticism from Thais on social media after authorities announced that dozens of visiting American troops would be undergoing their mandatory 14-day quarantine in Bangkok hotels.
Some 106 American soldiers will join three separate exercises from Aug. 18 to 30 in three provinces and would be subjected to the same requirements as anyone entering the country, said the head of the Thai Army’s anti-COVID-19 Unit, Nattapon Srisawat.
Thailand has been over two months without a local transmission and has kept infections to just over 3,300.
It has closed borders and airspace to tourists to keep the virus out and allows entry only to Thai repatriates or foreigners with special permission. All must undergo quarantine.
A popular Thai Facebook page attracted 25,000 likes when it questioned the necessity of holding joint exercises between the two historic allies amid a global health crisis.
“Is it really necessary to take in foreign soldiers now? If it does not impact the relationship just postpone it,” it said.
“Even citizens who need to travel have delayed their plans, why can’t the military training be postponed?”
More than 70 American soldiers arrived from the US Pacific territory of Guam on Monday and would be staying in alternative state quarantine, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the country’s coronavirus task force, referring to the mandatory quarantine that foreigners must undergo at their own expense.
More troops were due to arrive on Tuesday from Japan.
Asked about the criticism of the drills, Nattapon said that participants will have undergone two tests and would not be exposed to the public during the exercises.
“These soldiers will not be able leave the barracks,” he added.
The exercises come as Thailand’s military suspended sending forces abroad after nine Thai personnel tested positive for the coronavirus upon return from training in Hawaii.
The US embassy in Bangkok did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.