An estimated 20,000 people attended a sprawling rally for Belrusian opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya one week ahead of the country’s presidential vote.
That’s according to the human rights center Vyasna (Spring), which oversaw the counting for the August 2 rally outside the western city of Brest.
Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former teacher, is challenging Belarus’s authoritarian leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who is facing mounting public opposition after 26 years in power.
Tsikhanouskaya announced her candidacy after her husband, vlogger and activist Syarhey Tsikhanouski, was arrested and banned from the election after he had expressed his intention to run.
An accidental candidate, Tsikhanouskaya now finds herself at the forefront of a political wave that a growing number of Belarusians hope can bring in a democratic tide to the Eastern European country of some 9.5 million.
The August 2 rally took place in a park on the outskirts of Brest, in an area designated by local government authorities.
It was the smallest location that Tsikhanouskaya has been permitted to hold a political rally at, and her supporters spilled into the woods outside the park due to the lack of space in front of the stage.
The start of Tsikhanouskaya’s rally was delayed because her car was stopped several times by police as she traveled to Brest from the city of Baranavichy.
Tsikhanouskaya’s August 2 rally coincided with Belarus’s Airborne Troops Day and she saluted several servicemen who were in the crowd.
Trust in the authoritarian president has suffered since Lukashenka downplayed the coronavirus pandemic as nothing more than a “psychosis” that could be warded off with vodka, a tractor ride, or a visit to a sauna.
The first round of the election is scheduled for August 9, but previous elections in Belarus have not been considered free or fair by Western governments or observers.
During this campaign, hundreds of opposition activists have been arrested, and other opposition figures were prevented from running for president.
Tsikhanouskaya is part of a female trio who together are challenging Lukashenka. She joined forces with Veranika Tsapkala (left, in third photo below) and Maryya Kalesnikava (right), who both represented would-be presidential candidates who were barred from the August 9 ballot.
Brest was the latest city in western Belarus to host a Tsikhanouskaya rally.
Tsikhanouskaya has said that all events planned for her campaign would proceed despite a warning from the Belarusian Security Council about the need for additional security measures at public events.