Leading Belarus opposition candidate’s campaign manager detained

Maria Moroz, an ally of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has been detained on eve of tense vote.

Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya attends an election campaign rally in Minsk
Belarus holds the presidential election on Sunday with Tikhanovskaya, centre, posing the greatest challenge in years to long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

The campaign manager of Belarus’s leading opposition candidate has been detained on the eve of a tense presidential election, her office said.

A spokeswoman for presidential hopeful Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said Maria Moroz was detained on Saturday. It was not immediately clear on what grounds she had been held.

“She probably won’t be released before Monday,” spokeswoman Anna Krasulina told the AFP news agency.

Tikhanovskaya herself “is OK”, said the spokeswoman, adding, however, that the candidate who has emerged as the greatest challenge in years to longtime President Alexander Lukashenko had left her flat and would spend the night before the crucial vote elsewhere.

Moroz was also briefly detained on Thursday after visiting the Lithuanian embassy in the capital, Minsk.

Also on Saturday evening, police detained, but then released, a top ally of Tikhanovskaya, Maria Kolesnikova.

Kolesnikova was originally a member of the campaign team for Viktor Babariko, the former head of a local bank who was detained after he launched his presidential bid.

After Babariko’s arrest, Kolesnikova became the joint face of the opposition campaign backing Tikhanovskaya, who has drawn huge crowds to campaign rallies throughout the country after she was allowed to participate in place of her husband, a popular anti-government blogger who was jailed and barred from running.

Lukashenko has headed the ex-Soviet country bordering Russia since 1994 and Sunday’s polls are expected to hand him his sixth term.

The 65-year-old has presided over an aggressive crackdown on the opposition and Tikhanovskaya has charged that he will rig the vote.

Lukashenko, who is Europe’s longest-serving leader, jailed two of his main rivals in the elections, while another would-be candidate fled the country.

The president has accused Moscow and Western countries of meddling in the elections. 

Early voting began in the country of 9.5 million people on Tuesday, with official turnout during the past four days already at more than 32 percent.

Source: News Agencies