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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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Migrants leave Ocean Viking rescue ship in Sicily after tense wait

Issued on: 07/07/2020 – 01:46

Almost 200 migrants rescued by a humanitarian aid boat in the Medite..

Issued on:

Almost 200 migrants rescued by a humanitarian aid boat in the Mediterranean Sea began to leave the vessel in Sicily late on Monday after nine days stuck on the ship.

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An AFP journalist aboard the Ocean Viking watched as the migrants, in single file and carrying backpacks, regained dry land at Porto Empedocle on the Italian island's western coast.

Police escorted them a short distance to another vessel, where they will be quarantined to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus.

The arrival of the boat chartered by charity group SOS Mediterranee capped a tense few days onboard marked by migrants jumping overboard, a suicide attempt and bouts of violence.

After being rescued in four separate operations on June 25 and 30, the migrants waiting on the ship became increasingly agitated, according to SOS Mediterranee, as the charity awaited the go-ahead from either Italy or Malta to dock at a safe port.

However, approval did not arrive until Sunday, after the group declared a state of emergency on board, adding it could no longer guarantee the safety of the migrants or the crew.

Soon after 8:00 pm (18:00 GMT), the Ocean Viking docked at the port directly in front of Italian ferry Moby Zaza, where the migrants will wait out a two-week quarantine period.

Tensions mount

Earlier on Monday, a separate group of 169 migrants disembarked from the Moby Zaza after a two-week quarantine.

Thirty of the group — all of whom were rescued last month by Sea-Watch, another humanitarian group — tested positive for coronavirus and will remain on the ferry in an isolated "red zone" area.

SOS Mediterranee spent most of Monday waiting roughly four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the coast before being allowed to dock, as it warned that tensions were rising and the long wait was "amplifying risks on board".

From the deck of the Ocean Viking, migrants who have waited for more than a week to disembark could make out both the Sicilian coast and the immense ferry, the Moby Zaza, according to an AFP reporter on board.

The mayor of Porto Empedocle, Ida Carmina, told reporters that the migrants' arrival was too much for the economically suffering community to support.

"Now that we&#Read More – Source

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Europe

Reaching the bottom of the barrel: Coronavirus pandemic batters European wine production

Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:46

It's an ancient beverage turned cultural icon, so cherished in ..

Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:46

It's an ancient beverage turned cultural icon, so cherished in France that the legendary Victor Hugo once provocatively wrote: “God made only water – but man made wine”. Aside from being a staple at many family dinner tables, wine is also a massive European industry – and one thats going through its own coronavirus-induced crisis. This in a sector that was already battling against 25% tariffs imposed by Donald Trump in 2019 that have seen exports slump.

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Up to one third of French vineyards are believed to be in potential danger – in a sector that employs around 700,000 people in France alone.

FRANCE 24 has been investigating how winemakers have been coping – as some say they might end up forced to give up altogether.

Vincent Bouzereau, winemaker: "I think were going to have to pick up the pieces. We are all going to pay. I always say to my children, 'we can always tear up a vine, and put sheep out to graze, and then we can eat the sheep'.”

"We are farmers – thats where we began, as farmers."

Aubert Lefas, winemaker and secretary-general of the Bourgogne winemakers confederation warns that small family vineyards will go under as they do not have the resources to pay for wages and outgoings.

"If their land is valuable, theyll be sold to big international groRead More – Source

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Child sex abuse warning as coronavirus school closures continue

Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:33

Child sex abuse offenders are “taking advantage” of the coronavirus ..

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Child sex abuse offenders are "taking advantage" of the coronavirus pandemic to make and share more abusive material online. That warning from Catherine De Bolle, head of European law enforcement agency Europol. In an interview with FRANCE 24, she explains that with millions of children at home, many are going unsupervised, using outdated and poorly secured software which leaves them at greater risk from exploitation.

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"You have to be aware, when your child goes on the internet, the child has access to the world – but also the world has access to your child. You have to be aware of this, and you have to protect your child in this situation."

Catherine De Bolle says that organised criminals have exploited the pandemic in other areas too, with a "huge impact" on cyber crime; with counterfeit and sub-standard goods, and property crime also singled out.

The Europol Executive Director also cautions for the coming months of economic crisis in Europe, saying that the end of the pandemic will not be the end of pandemic-related crime.

"We are convinced that criminal organisations will try to make profit out of the pandemic, long after the pandemic. They will make use of the economic downturn, they will make use of economic sectors in difficulty, like tourism,Read More – Source

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