MINSK: The main challenger in Belarus’s disputed presidential election said on Tuesday she made a “difficult decision” to leave the country, after a second night of street clashes between police and opposition supporters left a protester dead.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claimed victory over authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in Sunday’s vote, said she had left out of concern for her children. Lithuania said she was “safe” after going to the neighbouring country.
“I have made a very difficult decision,” a distressed-looking Tikhanovskaya said in a short video.
“Children are the most important thing we have in life,” said the 37-year-old, whose five-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son had earlier been taken out of the country for their safety.
Tikhanovskaya decided to run for president after the authorities jailed her husband, popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, and barred him from contesting the election. He remains in prison in Belarus.
“I know that many will understand me, many will judge me, and many will begin to hate me,” Tikhanovskaya said. “But God forbid anyone face the choice I had.” Belarusian state media released a second video where Tikhanovskaya urged supporters not to protest or break the law, apparently reading from a script.
Maria Kolesnikova, one of Tikhanovskaya’s campaign partners, said “we think this video was recorded under pressure from law enforcement authorities.” The political novice, who has energised Belarus’s opposition, disappeared on Monday night after spending hours at the central electoral commission.
The Belarusian border guard service posted a video it said showed her crossing the frontier in a car at around 3:30am on Tuesday.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said Tikhanovskaya had arrived in the EU member country and “is safe”.
EU and Nato member Lithuania, which like Belarus was once part of the Soviet Union, has a history of granting refuge to Belarusian and Russian opposition figures.
Tikhanovskaya went missing as thousands protested on the streets of the capital Minsk, after Belarus declared long-serving leader Lukashenko had secured a sixth term with 80 percent of the vote.
Tikhanovskaya came second with 10 percent according to the official count but protesters are backing her claim to have won the election.
For the second night in a row, police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas to disperse demonstrations, though protesters fought back with stones and fireworks and built makeshift barricades, reporters, protesters and witnesses said. The interior ministry said it detained more than 2,000 people.
Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2020