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Belarus: Anti-president rallies canceled amid detentions

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — A Belarusian opposition activist who has been rallying against the reelection of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and collecting signatures to run against him has canceled rallies in big cities amid crackdown on her supporters.

In a video statement released Thursday, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged supporters not to hold pickets and not to collect signatures for her candidacy in Minsk and other big cities in the next few days. “Not a single signature is worth the suffering of you and your families," Tikhanovskaya said.

Tikhanovskaya is the wife of a popular opposition blogger, Sergei Tikhanovsky, who is the mastermind of the campaign. In late May, he was detained at a rally in Grodno, western Belarus. The country's Investigative Committee announced this week that he could be sentenced to three years in prison if convicted on charges of violating public order and assaulting police.

The Viasna Human Rights Center, an organization based in Belarus's capital of Minsk, said that some 100 opposition activists have been detained across the country. Lukashenko, who has relentlessly suppressed opposition and independent news media during more than a quarter-century in power, is seeking a sixth term in an election scheduled for Aug. 9. The 65-year-old leader appears certain to secure an easy victory despite opposition protests.

According to Belarusian laws, candidates need to gather at least 100,000 signatures to run for president. Aside from Lukashenko, 14 people said they were considering being candidates in the race.

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