Belarus presidential election challenger flees to Lithuania

Ms Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has claimed victory against President Alexander Lukashenko in the election.
Ms Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has claimed victory against President Alexander Lukashenko in the election.

MINSK • The main challenger in Belarus' disputed presidential election, Ms Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled to Lithuania after coming under pressure in a seven-hour encounter with officials that left her with little choice, Lithuania's Foreign Minister said yesterday.

"She apparently felt a certain pressure and did not have very much choice but to leave the country," said Mr Linas Linkevicius.

He said the presidential candidate was now "safe" and with her children, following a second night of clashes in the authoritarian former Soviet republic after a disputed election.

Mr Linkevicius said Ms Tikhanovskaya came under pressure during the marathon meeting at the Belarus central election commission late on Monday.

She has a Lithuanian visa and the Belarus authorities did not hinder her departure, he said, adding that he did not know her future plans.

The office of Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said Ms Tikhanovskaya was "resting" in the Baltic state.

Ms Tikhanovskaya, a political novice who only entered the fray after her blogger husband was jailed, has claimed victory against President Alexander Lukashenko.

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

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

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

Meanwhile, a man died in the protests in Belarus as thousands took to the streets of the capital Minsk late on Monday, saying Mr Lukashenko had stolen the election from Ms Tikhanovskaya to claim a sixth term.

The police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas but demonstrators fought back with stones and fireworks and built makeshift barricades, according to AFP reporters, protesters and witnesses who described chaotic scenes of defiance.

Separately, in the capital Minsk, state media released a video yesterday showing Ms Tikhanovskaya urging supporters not to protest, but her allies said it was recorded under pressure.

She appeared to read from a prepared statement calling for "respect for the law" and for Belarusians not to take to the streets.

Ms Tikhanovskaya posted an emotional video on YouTube from Lithuania yesterday.

"I thought this campaign had hardened me a lot and given me enough strength to withstand anything. But probably I'm still that weak woman I was at the start," she said.

"God forbid you face the choice that I did, so people, take care of yourselves. No life is worth what's happening now. Children are the most important thing in our lives."

There was "unacceptable state violence against peaceful protesters," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

Poland has urged the bloc to call an emergency summit on the crisis, while Germany said Belarus failed to meet minimum election standards.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2020, with the headline Belarus presidential election challenger flees to Lithuania. Subscribe