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‘Slipper Revolution’ Shakes Belarus

Half-a-year ago Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron Soviet-style fist for a qua..

Half-a-year ago Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron Soviet-style fist for a quarter of century, looked to be unassailable. But the former collective farm manager, whose aides and supporters like to dub him “father,” is now being widely labeled a “cockroach” — and his opponents are vowing to “squash the pest” come August when he faces a presidential election.

In the past, Lukashenko has managed elections in much the same way as Russian leader Vladimir Putin – disqualify serious opponents from running, fiddle the tallies and silence independent media, according to international election monitors. During the last poll in 2015, many Belarusians observed the upheaval in neighboring Ukraine and took fright, deciding they preferred the leaden, if impoverishing, stability of Lukashenko over unpredictable and possibly ruinous change, say analysts.

But this time, Lukashenko is threatened not by a so-called “color revolution” but with a “slipper uprising,” thanks to popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was arrested at a rally last month after an alleged assault on a police officer.

Tikhanovsky was behind the labeling of Lukashenko as a “cockroach,” saying he resembled the insect in a popular childrens poem called “The Mighty Cockroach.” He had taken to driving around Belarus campaigning with a giant slipper tied to the roof of his car — a signal of his intention to flatten Lukashenko.

FILE - Blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky speaks during a rally of supporters of opposition politicians amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Minsk, Belarus May 24, 2020.

FILE – Blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky speaks during a rally of supporters of opposition politicians amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Minsk, Belarus May 24, 2020.

Charged with public disorder and accused of being a foreign agent after the security services claimed to have unearthed $900,000 in cash during a subsequent search of his home, Tikhanovsky is blocked from running. His 38-year-old wife, Svetlana, has stepped up as a substitute to challenge Lukashenko.

And she has become, on paper, the incumbent Lukashenkos biggest threat, following the detention on Friday of another challenger, Viktor Babaryko, a 56-year-old former banker, who was arrested for alleged financial crimes, along with his campaign manager, his son. “Babaryko is detained because he was the organizer and leader of illegal activities,” Ivan Tertel, head of the state control committee, told AFP news agency.

Tertel also accused Babaryko of conspiring with Russian “puppeteers.”

The arrests of Tikhanovsky, Babaryko and other Lukashenko critics— which have triggered street protests in the streets of Minsk, the Belarus capital, and earned a rebuke from the European Union — puts Svetlana Tikhanovskaya even more in the spotlight.

Even before Babarykos detention, 16% of Belarusians backed her candidacy, according to an unofficial poll run by the news site Tut.by. Police have told the website not to publish any more polls. And the signs are that she is unnerving the idiosyncratic authoritarian leader unaccustomed to challenge. Midweek she told reporters an anonymous caller told her to pull out of the election, warning the Tikhanovskys ten-year-old son and four-year-old daughter could be taken away from them if she refused.

FILE - Supporters of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya collect signatures in support of her nomination as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, in Minsk, Belarus, May 24, 2020.

FILE – Supporters of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya collect signatures in support of her nomination as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, in Minsk, Belarus, May 24, 2020.

She says she had considered backing down, but has decided to continue, determined to be a champion for Belarusians, many of whom “dont know that in Europe you can say what you think without fear.” She added, “Ive never wanted to be a politician, let alone the president. This is just how things have turned out.”

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has become an unlikely revolutionary figurehead. She describes herself as just a stay-at-home mother and wife. One of the couples children has special needs. But the enthusiasm for change is clear. Towns across the landlocked country of nine million have seen protests and crowds appear to support her candidacy and the campaigns of other opposition candidates. She acknowledges “people at these rallies are supporting Sergei, not me.”

Her husband, who has been compared to Alexei Navalny, the blogger turned opposition leader in neighboring Russia, says he is playing “the main role in my wife Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s election campaign; her role will be only a nominal one.” He has in the campaign team other popular bloggers.

Despite last weeks arrests people in Minsk are lining up again to sign the nomination papers of candidates opposing Lukashenko, according to Belarusian journalist Hanna Liubakova. She tweeted Sunday: “3 leading #Lukashenkos rivals collected more than 730,000 signatures in less than a month. If you count 3 other alternative candidates, it is more than a million. This campaign has already shown that the level of activism and political engagement is incredibly high.”

Candidates have to gather at least 100,000 signatures to be qualified to stand.

FILE - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting with officials in Minsk, Belarus, June 19, 2020.

FILE – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a meeting with officials in Minsk, Belarus, June 19, 2020.

The opposition to Lukashenko is being fueled by an increasingly parlous economic situation, a coronavirus crisis, which the president downplayed from the start and cheerily told Belarusians to take saunas and drink vodka to avoid falling ill, and just a weariness with his rule and stagnation, analysts say. Younger Belarusians seem impervious to Lukashenkos warnings of chaos, if hes not reelected to his sixth term. And they are immune seemingly to the Soviet-like stability their elders favor.

Lukashenko is not being helped in his political struggle by neighboring Russia. His relationship with Vladimir Putin has long been a fitful one with the two falling out frequently and then circling back for convenience sake. A senior Russian diplomat based in Minsk described to VOA once the “shouting match” he overheard during a phone conversation between the pair.

Analysts say Putins major objective towards Belarus is to ensure — much as his goal is with Ukraine — that it doesnt end up as a pro-Western enclave on Russias borders, say analysts. The Belarusian leader has long played the West against Russia and vice versa. He observed a neutral stance over Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and hosted peace talks in Minsk to try to find a solution to the war in eastern Ukraine.

But he has relied on Russia financially for help — and that has been less forthcoming with subsidies and oil supplies in recent months, punishment, analysts and diplomats say, for Lukashenkos resistance to Putins efforts to draw Minsk deeper into the Russian orbit.

Few analysts predict that anyone other than Lukashenko will be allowed to win the Aug. 9 poll — and they warn that Belarus could quickly be plunged into a Maidan-like uprising that saw the 2014 ouster of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

Protests are spreading across Belarus as opposition to Lukashenko grows, local media and human rights organizations report. On Friday, more than 10 cities across the former Soviet republic saw protests with dozens of activists arrested by the security forces. The independent human rights group Viasna says least 120 people were detained.

Lukashenko appears to be preparing for the likelihood of a violent reaction to his seemingly inevitable electoral win, claiming on Friday that by arresting Babaryko and dozens of political activists he had foiled a Ukraine-style revolutionary plot hatched by foreign conspirators from “both the West and from the East,” who are intent on fomenting unrest in Belarus.

Former aide Alexander Feduta, now a political analyst, has warned that Lukashenko is ready to use force to stay in power. The arrests are an indication of that, he says.

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Green, left-wing Michèle Rubirola becomes Marseilles first woman mayor

Issued on: 05/07/2020 – 11:00Modified: 05/07/2020 – 11:01

Marseille became the latest French munic..

Issued on: 05/07/2020 – 11:00Modified: 05/07/2020 – 11:01

Marseille became the latest French municipality to elect a Green mayor on Saturday, in a wave that has swept the country since local elections at the end of last month.

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Michèle Rubirola, the first female leader of Frances second city, won the most votes from city councillors, ending almost a week of suspense after the June 28 poll that failed to give her slate an absolute majority.

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Italy could transfer migrants from Ocean Viking rescue ship on Monday

Issued on: 05/07/2020 – 10:07Modified: 05/07/2020 – 10:16

Italy is carrying out tests on 180 migra..

Issued on: Modified:

Italy is carrying out tests on 180 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean with a view to transferring them to a quarantine vessel in Sicily, an interior ministry source said Saturday.

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The migrants have been on the Ocean Viking ship operated by SOS Mediterranee for over a week, with fights and suicide attempts on board prompting the charity to declare a state of emergency on Friday.

A medical team sent by authorities in Pozzallo, Sicily “ascertained the absence of particular health problems and also reported that some tensions that had been registered on the ship are being overcome”, the ministry source said.

The medical team is testing the migrants for the Covid-19 virus after which they will be transferred to a quarantine ship currently in Porto Empedocle, also in Sicily.

“The situation is carefully monitored in view of the transhipment of migrants, scheduled for Monday 6 July, on the Moby Zaza ship,” the source said.

The Ocean Viking, which has been in limbo in the Mediterranean south of Sicily, has been waiting for permission from Italy or Malta to offload the migrants at a safe port.

Italy could transfer migrants from Ocean Viking rescue ship on Monday

Tensions have risen in the past week, as witnessed by an AFP reporter aboard the boat, as migrants have become increasingly desperate to reach land. Others have become distraught at not being able to telephone their families to let them know they were safe.

SOS Mediteranee said in a statement on Saturday that “the only assistance proposed has been a visit by a medical doctor and a cultural mediator who spoke to the survivors but are not in a position to present a solution for their disembarkation.”

The migrants, which include Pakistanis, North Africans, Eritreans, Nigerians and others, were picked up after fleeing Libya in four separate rescues by the Ocean Viking on June 25 and 30.

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Air France to cut 7,580 jobs at French flagship carrier and regional unit Hop!

Issued on: 03/07/2020 – 20:16Modified: 03/07/2020 – 20:16

Air France confirmed plans to cut some 7..

Issued on: 03/07/2020 – 20:16Modified: 03/07/2020 – 20:16

Air France confirmed plans to cut some 7,500 jobs including 1,000 at sister airline Hop! on Friday, as staff protested over its response to the collapse in travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The French flag carrier, part of Franco-Dutch group Air France-KLM, said it had lost €15 million a day during the worst part of the crisis, which also saw its revenues plunge by 95 percent. It did not see traffic returning to 2019 levels before 2024.

As a result, Air France plans to cut 6,560 or 16 percent of jobs at the main airline by the end of 2022, more than 3,500 of which will come through natural departures, it said after union talks.

Another 1,020 jobs will go over the next three years at Hop!, representing 42 percent of staff at the regional carrier based in the coastal city of Nantes, which has also been hit by job cuts at plane manufacturer Airbus.

The French government – which granted Air France €7 billion ($7.9 billion) in aid, including state-backed loans, to help it to survive – has urged the airline to avoid compulsory layoffs, though it has conceded Air France is "on the edge”.

"A successful labour reorganisation is one where there are no forced departures," junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio on Friday.

In its statement, Air France said it would give priority to voluntary departures, early retirement and staff mobility. It did not rule out compulsory redundancies, however.

The reconstruction plan will be presented at the end of July, together with a plan for the wider Air France-KLM Group.

This is not how I wanted to leave

Some 100 union members and employees, from cleaning staff to check-in assistants, demonstrated earlier outside the airline's base at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris against plans to cut staff after receiving state aid to absorb the pandemic fallout.

Air France employees gather to protest a restructuring plan that includes thousands of job cuts in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis outside the French airline's headquarters in Roissy-en-France near Paris on July 3, 2020. The sign at right reads, "Not born to end up in the dumpster.” © Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters

"It's scandalous. The government is putting in €7 billion and the compRead More – Source

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