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Jailed Belarusian politician Babariko forms new party from prison as President Lukashenko pledges fresh crackdown on opposition

Jailed Belarusian politician Babariko forms new party from prison as President Lukashenko pledges fresh crackdown on opposition
Former Belarusian presidential candidate Viktor Babariko, who was jailed last year for corruption charges considered by many to be politically motivated, has announced the creation of a brand new party called 'Vmeste' (Together).

The political figure's announcement came just days after the country's leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, revealed that the authorities would not go easy on the country's “radical” opposition – who he called "terrible scoundrels" – linking them to a thwarted terrorist attack.

Babariko is building his political movement alongside a host of activists, including Maria Kolesnikova, one of the three Belarusian women who rose to fame after teaming up against Lukashenko in the 2020 election. Like Babariko, Kolesnikova is also in jail.

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Announcing its formation on messenger app Telegram, Babariko noted that he had "never been a member of any party" and never thought that one was needed, but changed his mind, stating that it will be registered in accordance with the country's legislation.

"The party is not an end in itself, but is the most effective tool for achieving our victory," he said, noting that he wants to work with other people to make sure the country doesn't "leave the cancer of fear and helplessness to our children and grandchildren."

In a newly published manifesto, Vmeste calls for a Belarus where "the law and rights are respected," as well as a clear separation of powers, independent courts, and fair and transparent elections.

"We want a new government in Belarus that will listen to and serve the people. We want to build a country that we will be proud of," it states.

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Along with his son Eduard, Babariko was arrested last June, accused of large-scale tax evasion, bribery, and laundering the proceeds of crime. Babariko was previously the chairman of the board of Belgazprombank, which is owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom. More than $4 million in cash and securities worth more than $500,000 were seized, with the authorities saying some of the employees, including Babariko, formed an organized criminal group and sent money abroad. According to the prosecution, top managers at the bank received bribes from clients and laundered them through real estate.

Belarus' last presidential election was on August 9, last, with Lukashenko winning for the sixth time. The incumbent's main rival was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of another jailed candidate, Sergey Tikhanovsky. According to the official results, Lukashenko got 80.1% of the vote. Tikhanovskaya's supporters believe the election was rigged. Mass demonstrations ensued in the following days, with many taking to the streets across the country. The protests were met with strong resistance from the country's security forces, which detained thousands of people. Some of those arrested have claimed to have been tortured.

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Shortly after the election, Tikhanovskaya announced the creation of the Coordination Council, designed to facilitate a peaceful transition of power. Babariko ally Kolesnikova is a member of its seven-member Presidium.

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