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Fearful Belarus opposition leader denies husband is linked to alleged Russian plot

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MINSK (Reuters) - Belarusian opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya on Thursday denied allegations that she or her jailed husband had ties to an alleged plot by Russian mercenaries to destabilise Belarus ahead of a presidential election.

Tikhanouskaya spoke to Reuters in an interview after the authorities launched a criminal case against her husband Syarhei on suspicion of inciting riots and state-run media suggested he was part of a plot to sow instability.

The 37-year-old is leading the strongest challenge in years to President Alexander Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm boss who has brooked little opposition in his 26-year rule of the eastern European country.

She said she feared that attempts to tie her family to alleged foreign plotters could lead to bloodshed ahead of the election on August 9. She called the allegations about her husband’s involvement “completely implausible”

“Now they can tie this whole story to Tsikhanouski or other political prisoners. The situation is very alarming,” she said, referring to her husband.

“I am very worried. I just do not understand which direction the wind is blowing. Most of all I am afraid that something will happen at a campaign meeting, at one of the pickets, and people will be crippled or even killed.”

Russia demanded an explanation from Belarus earlier on Thursday after Minsk arrested the alleged Russian mercenaries and said they were suspected of plotting “acts of terrorism”

Tikhanouskaya launched her candidacy in place of her husband, a popular blogger who was detained in May. She was originally reluctant to run after receiving an anonymous threat to have her children taken away from her if she did.

But in recent days she has gathered crowds of thousands of people, amid swelling anger against Lukashenko over his hands-off handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances over the economy and human rights.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson