Ian Patrick, FISM News
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya said on Tuesday she had fled abroad for the sake of her children after strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko’s claim of victory in Sunday’s presidential election prompted bloody street protests. Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, took the place of her husband on the ballot. Her husband, Syarhei, is an anti-government blogger who was jailed.
Svetlana fled to neighbouring Lithuania where she was reunited with her children, who she moved earlier after receiving anonymous threats about their safety. Belarusian authorities said she was not forced to leave but a separate video appearance, apparently filmed at the central election commission before she left Belarus, raised questions about her departure.
In it, she was seen reading from a piece of paper in stilted official language and reversed her earlier stance and asked supporters to accept the election’s outcome and stop protesting in order to prevent bloodshed.
“You know, I thought that this whole campaign had really toughened me up and given me so much strength that I could handle anything,” she said in the video.
“But, probably, I’m still the weak woman I was in the first place. I have made a very difficult decision for myself,” she said, adding that the political tumult in Belarus was not worth anyone losing their life for.
However, unrest erupted for a third night in a row on Tuesday as security forces fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse thousands of protesters who took to the streets accusing Lukashenko, in power since 1994, of swindling the vote.
Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to this month’s vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations of others who voiced opposition.
The European Union earlier accused Lukashenko’s government of “disproportionate and unacceptable violence” and said it was reviewing its relations with Minsk. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Belarus’s election was “not free and fair” and condemned “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters”.
Sourced from Reuters, edited for brevity