Belarus denies the main challenger to the president on the ballot

Belarus denies the main challenger to the president on the ballot

MINSK, Belarus (AP) – The Central Election Commission in Belarus has turned down a top challenger’s bid to defeat authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in this summer’s election.

The committee’s decision to keep Valery Tsepkalo out of the vote on Tuesday lifted serious competition for Lukashenko, who has held back opposition and news media in power for a quarter of a century.

Former US ambassador and founder of a successful high-tech park, Tsepkalo has filed 160,000 petition signatures to get the vote for the August 9 election, but the committee said only 75,000 were valid – fewer than 100,000 needed to be.

Another strong challenger, former banker Viktor Babariko, has been jailed and charged with money laundering.

Popular opposition blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky has been jailed for attacking a police officer. Tikhanovksy’s wife, who ran for president, suspended her campaign.

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