Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

Group 'seeks Gandalf' for president

bbc.com

President Alexander Lukashenko has run Belarus virtually unchallenged for 20 years, but he may face a formidable opponent at next year's elections - a wizard like Gandalf.

"Gandalf for President!" is the campaign slogan of the Belarus, My Country opposition group, which has a 50,000-strong online following, Radio Liberty's Belarusian service reports. The organisers know the wizard from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit novels doesn't qualify for election, so they're seeking a local candidate with similar qualities of wisdom and leadership. "It's a cushy job," they promise, adding that they've chosen the character because he's "a good wizard and a friend to the Hobbits, who as we know are like Belarusians" - an apparent reference to a study which suggested Belarus had a "Shire-like climate".

The group took its cue from the unsuccessful campaign by a "Darth Vader" presidential candidate in Ukraine, but the stakes are higher in authoritarian Belarus. Previous unsuccessful candidates Andrei Sannikau and Alyaksandr Milinkevich have faced arrest, persecution and imprisonment since daring to stand up to the long-serving leader. President Lukashenko is a close ally of Russia - a point not lost on the organisers, who quip that "Gandalf's" main task will be to "confront Mordor, which lies somewhere near Moscow".