The main opposition candidate in Belarus ' looming presidential election accused the authoritarian incumbent Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday of concocting provocations aimed at quashing challengers.
With the opposition calling for peaceful street protests if the March 19 vote is considered rigged, Alexander Milinkevich told reporters that officials could resort to planting weapons and counterfeit currency among opposition groups and activists.
"The authorities are preparing provocations such as planting dollars, preferably false ones, and weapons in order to increase repression," Milinkevich said.
Also Thursday, a Minsk court sentenced three Milinkevich supporters, including prominent opposition figure Vintsyuk Vyachorka, to 15 days in prison on charges of organizing and participating in unauthorized rallies. Another opposition activist said he was detained Wednesday night, his apartment was searched for a bomb and campaign materials were confiscated.
"The authorities want to behead the opposition," Milinkevich said. "They are not even attempting to create the illusion of an honest election."
Milinkevich estimated that as many as 250 of his supporters have been detained, beaten or subjected to illegal searches.
The country's top election official dismissed opposition accusations, saying the election campaign was being conducted in accordance with the law, and claimed it was the opposition that was organizing provocations.
"They are not ... being punished by the (presidential) administration they are people who provoke those conflicts," Lidiya Yermoshina said.
Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist since 1994, quashing dissent and opposition and maintaining his grip on power through votes dismissed as illegitimate by his critics. The United States has dubbed him " Europe 's last dictator."
His campaign officials warned Belarusians against participating in opposition rallies and gatherings, appearing to issue a veiled threat to those who do.
"You can become a participant in an unauthorized event and become a lawbreaker," Lukashenko's election campaign chief said in a statement. "Think about yourself and your children", reports the AP.
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Eyewitnesses said that explosions could be heard in the centre of Kyiv. Smoke was seen rising above Zhuliany Airport (Kyiv International Airport)