June 16, 2020 / 2:14 PM / 16 days ago

Belarus election candidate says she will press on despite threat to children

MINSK (Reuters) - A candidate standing against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday she would press on with her campaign, despite receiving a threat to have her children taken away.

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, February 7, 2020. Alexander Zemlianichenko/File Photo

Svetlana Tikhanouskaya launched her campaign for president in place of her husband, an anti-Lukashenko blogger who was arrested last month for threatening public order and now faces up to three years in prison.

She fought back tears in a video released on Tuesday describing how she had received an anonymous phone call threatening that her children would be taken away unless she abandoned her campaign. The call came just as she was about to hand in part of a petition with 100,000 signatures required to stand.

“I have a choice - my children or carrying on the struggle,” said Tikhanouskaya in the video. She later said she would continue because “it is only way to help my husband”.

Lukashenko has brooked little opposition in his 26-year rule. The authorities have launched legal cases against several of his opponents in recent weeks after voters joined lengthy queues to sign petitions to support candidates against him.

Lukashenko is facing the biggest challenge to his authority in years as frustration with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances about the economy and human rights reinvigorated opposition to his rule.

He has largely dismissed the coronavirus and resisted measures taken in other countries to slow infections. After decades of promoting close ties with Russia, he has also lately squabbled with Moscow over oil supplies, subsidies and the Kremlin’s push for closer economic and political union.

Tikhanouskaya’s husband Syarhei Tsikhanouski popularised the slogan “stop the cockroach”, comparing Lukashenko to a character in a children’s fairytale.

Separately the state also launched a tax evasion case against the local unit of Russia’s Gazprombank and has taken the bank into administration. The bank’s former head Viktor Babariko is running against Lukashenko.

Lukashenko has accused the opposition of trying to destabilise Belarus.

Editing by Matthias Williams and Peter Graff

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