Belarus denies main president challenger spot on ballot

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The central elections commission in Belarus has rejected a top challenger’s bid to run against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in this summer’s election.

The commision’s decision Tuesday to bar Valery Tsepkalo from the ballot removes any serious competition for Lukashenko, who has stifled opposition and news media during a quarter-century in power.

Tsepkalo, a former ambassador to the United States and a founder of a successful high-technology park, submitted 160,000 signatures on petitions to get on the ballot for the Aug. 9 election, but the commission said only 75,000 were valid — less than the 100,000 needed.

Another strong challenger, former banker Viktor Babariko, has been jailed and is facing charges of money-laundering.

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

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