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Belarus election challenger Tikhanouskaya ‘safe’ in Lithuania

Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya reacts after casting her ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Minsk on August 9, 2020.
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya reacts after casting her ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Minsk on August 9, 2020. © Serguei Gapon, AFP
7 min

Belarus opposition challenger Svetlana Tikhanouskaya is in Lithuania, the foreign minister said on Tuesday, following a second night of clashes after a disputed election in the authoritarian former Soviet republic.

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“She arrived in Lithuania and is safe,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP.

President Gitanas Nauseda’s office said Tikhanouskaya was “resting” in the Baltic state.

“The president’s office is in constant contact with Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, who arrived in Lithuania. She is currently resting,” Nauseda’s spokesman Antanas Bubnelis told AFP.

The whereabouts of Tikhanouskaya, a political novice who has claimed victory in Sunday’s poll in Belarus against President Alexander Lukashenko, had been unknown as of late Monday in Minsk.

In a video released Tuesday, Tikhanouskaya said that she had made a difficult decision to leave her country for Lithuania.

Belarus opposition leader flees to Lithuana after more clashes
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She indicated she had left Belarus to be with her two children, who had earlier been taken out of the authoritarian ex-Soviet country for their own safety.

“Children are the most important thing we have in life,” said the 37-year-old.

“You know I thought that this campaign had really steeled me and given me the strength to endure everything,” she said.

“But I probably remained the weak woman I was at the beginning,” she said.

Lukashenko had previously belittled women politicians, saying a woman president “would collapse, poor thing".

“I know that many will understand me, many will judge me, and many will begin to hate me,” Tikhanouskaya said. “But God forbid anyone face the choice I had.”

“People please take care of yourselves,” she said. “What is happening now is not worth a single life.”

History of granting refuge

EU and NATO member Lithuania, which was also once part of the Soviet Union, has a history of granting refuge to Belarusian and Russian opposition figures.

“Vilnius has a history of Belarusian opposition concentration. It is also the convenient geographical location because it is close to Minsk,” Vilnius university analyst Laurynas Jonavicius told AFP.

The Lithuanian capital hosts an EU-funded Belarusian university in exile, the European Humanities University, after Lukashenko shut it down in 2004.

In a show of solidarity with protesters, the city’s municipality lit up its four bridges overnight in white-red-white – the historical Belarusian flag used by opposition activists.

One man died in protests in Belarus as thousands took to the streets of the capital Minsk late on Monday, saying Lukashenko had stolen the election from Tikhanouskaya to take a sixth term.

Police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas but demonstrators fought back with stones and fireworks and built makeshift barricades, AFP reporters, protesters and witnesses said, in chaotic scenes of defiance.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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