The parliament of Belarus decided Tuesday to set the next presidential election for Oct. 11, about a month earlier than originally planned. The decision intensified a debate among opposition parties on whether to put forward candidates for an election all but certain to be won by Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic with an iron grip since 1994.
After Lukashenko won a fourth term in 2010 with what election officials said was 80 percent of the vote, mass protests broke out on the streets of Minsk, the capital. Police responded violently, arresting hundreds of protesters and seven of the nine candidates that ran against Lukashenko. Two of the candidates were later sent to prison, where one still remains.
Vladimir Neklyayev, one of the former candidates who served prison time, called on the opposition to unite behind the former candidate still in prison, Nikolai Statkevich.