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Prominent Belarusian opposition figure Valery Tsepkalo flees to Russia amid arrest fears

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Valery Tsepkalo pictured in Minsk, Belarus, on May 26, 2020
Valery Tsepkalo pictured in Minsk, Belarus, on May 26, 2020   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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One of Belarus' prominent opposition figures, Valery Tsepkalo, has fled to Moscow fearing he would be arrested and stripped of parental rights, he told Euronews.

It's the latest controversial episode in the run-up to the presidential election taking place on August 9.

Following a campaign marked by several protests and dozens of arrests, including that of incumbent Lukashenko's main rival, Victor Babariko, who was jailed over fraud and embezzlement charges.

International observers are worried the crackdown on opposition figures will undermine the legitimacy of the electoral process.

Concerns grew after the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) announced it won't be deploying an election observation mission to the country due to a late invitation by the authorities.

Belarus' central election commission (CEC), however, has announced it already registered more than 45,000 local observers to make sure that the vote is not rigged.

Valery Tsepkalo was barred from running last January after the CEC invalidated some of the signatures he collected to register as a candidate.

"He (Lukashenko) does not want to conduct an honest vote," Tsepkalo told Euronews' Galina Polonskaya.

"He is doing everything possible to falsify (the vote). He is demonstrating to Belarusian society that he will falsify these elections, no matter how we vote and he will still get the numbers that he wants," he said.

"And he does not allow the installation, as they did here in Russia, of transparent ballot boxes, surveillance cameras where people can watch online how it all happens," Tsepkalo added.

"We still have wooden boxes, old voting methods and, naturally, old methods of vote-rigging, which he is going to apply."

Tsepkalo said he was warned that the authorities had started proceedings to deprive him and his wife of his parental rights.

"There's a high risk that they will put me in prison, start a procedure to take one of our children away," he said.

"And, quite obviously, that will be an act of direct pressure on my wife, who is now taking an active part in the presidential campaign in our country."

Euronews contacted the President of Belarus' office to ask about these claims but it had not received a response at the time of publication.

Veronika Tsepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova, who replaced Victor Babariko in the race after his arrest, announced on July 17 they would back another presidential candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, in a bid to end Lukashenko's 25-year rule.

Tikhanovskaya herself had initially stood in for her husband, Siarhei Leanidavich Tsikhanouski, a popular blogger who was jailed.

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
Maria Kolesnikova, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo at a news conference in Minsk on July 17, 2020.AP Photo/Sergei Grits