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Sport

Belarusian matches to be played behind closed doors over protests

(Reuters) - The Belarusian football federation (ABFF) said that the next round of matches in the top three divisions as well as the women’s championship will be played behind closed doors because of the mass demonstrations around the country.

President Alexander Lukashenko, facing the biggest crisis of his 26 year rule, was declared the winner of an Aug. 9 presidential election, but tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets saying the election is rigged.

Lukashenko, a gruff former collective farm boss, has blamed foreign countries for stirring unrest and funding protesters. At least two demonstrators have died and thousands have been jailed, many emerging to complain of beatings and abuse.

Soccer club BATE Borisov’s player Anton Soroca and Ilya Litvinov of ice hockey team Dinamo Molodechno were among those arrested, causing public outrage.

“The ABFF informs that in connection with the current situation, the ABFF’s Bureau of the Executive Committee decided to hold next round’s matches without the presence of spectators at the stadium,” ABFF said in a statement.

CSKA Moscow’s Belarusian striker Ilya Shkurin has said he won’t play for his country until Lukashenko steps down.[L8N2FI09H]

CSKA’s Belarusian coach, Viktor Goncharenko, was among hundreds of top athletes and coaches who also strongly criticised his government for police violence against peaceful protesters.

Belarus was the only country in Europe playing soccer in front of fans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lukashenko has been publicly sceptical about the need for strong action to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. He has called fears over the virus a “psychosis” and variously suggested drinking vodka, visiting saunas or playing ice hockey to beat the disease.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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