STOCKHOLM, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Finnish club Jokerit will travel to Dynamo Minsk on Thursday to open their Kontinental Hockey League campaign despite continued protests in Belarus over the results of August's presidential election, the team said.
President Alexander Lukashenko is facing the biggest challenge of his 26-year rule after claiming victory in the election, which opponents say was rigged. He denies electoral fraud and shows no sign of backing down.
The European Union and United States have rejected the election result and are considering sanctions.
"We have made the decision to go to Minsk ... only on game day, and to leave immediately after the match," Jokerit chairman Jari Kurri said in a statement on the club's website. (www.jokerit.com)
"We have been in close contact with Dynamo about the possibility of playing the match and we will adhere to the series program," he said.
"We hope that Belarus will find peaceful solutions to its political situation," Kurri added.
Hockey player Ilya Litvinov, who plays for Minsk feeder club Dynamo Molodechno, posted pictures of his bruised face on social media and said he had been beaten by police on his way home from training in Molodechno, some 75 km (47 miles) northwest of Minsk.
"After the incident I had an examination. Everything is fine. How can it be otherwise if I'm already (back) on the ice?" he told Belorussian sports website Pressball (www.pressball.by) in an interview, adding that he would not press charges.
Jokerit joined the KHL in 2014. The KHL comprises 23 teams - 18 from Russia and one each from Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Latvia and Finland. Dynamo Minsk has been in the league since it began in 2008.
An avid ice hockey player, Lukashenko can regularly be seen on state television playing the game. Earlier this year he continued to play before spectators despite calls for him to impose a lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Discontent has grown among Belarusian athletes, with hundreds of them, including Olympics medallists, publishing last week a demand for new elections. (Reporting by Philip O'Connor, additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber Editing by Gareth Jones)