Sat, 19 Sep 2020

MINSK -- Belarusian opposition presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has left Belarus and is in Lithuania, the Baltic country's foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, announced on Twitter on August 11 amid protests across Belarus over a presidential election that the opposition says was rigged.

Tsikhanouskaya said in a video issued by the news website on August 11 that she'd made the decision to leave Belarus on her own.

'I made a very difficult decision,' she said. 'That decision I made by myself. Neither friends, relatives, the campaign team, nor Syarhey (Tsikhanouskaya's husband) could affect it in any way. I know that many will understand me, many will judge me, and many will hate me. But, you know, God forbid, [you have to] face the dilemma I had to face.'

Tsikhanouskaya's departure from Belarus came during a second night of protests across the country over an official tally that gave incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a landslide victory.

At least one protester died in Minsk overnight amid clashes between riot police and demonstrators. Police also used tear gas, water cannon, and stun grenades to disperse crowds of demonstrators overnight in more than a dozen other cities across Belarus -- including Babruysk, Brest, Vitsebsk, Homel, Hrodna, Mahilyou, Byaroza, and Mazyr.

Meanwhile, opponents of Lukashenka have called for a nationwide strike beginning at noon on August 11.

Opposition figures also have called for protests to continue across the country on August 11, including a mass demonstration called for in Minsk at 6 p.m. local time.

WATCH: Second night of protests in Minsk (RFE/RL's Belarus Service)

The Investigative Committee of Belarus, meanwhile, warned citizens on August 11 that they would face repercussions for 'illegal actions.'

'The Investigative Committee once again appeals to citizens. Do not follow provocations by the organizers of the riots,' it said in a statement. 'Think about the consequences of your actions, be prudent. We remind you that such illegal actions will certainly lead to criminal liability.'

In Lithuania, Foreign Minister Linkevicius tweeted early on August 11 that: 'Svetlana #Tikhanovskaya is safe. She is in #Lithuania.'

'She arrived in Lithuania and is safe,' Linkevicius later told AFP, without providing further details.

But Tsikhanouskaya's spokesperson Volha Kavalkova said on August 11 that Belarusian authorities had taken Tsikhanouskaya out of the country.

'Svyatlana had no choice,' Kavalkova said. 'It is important that she is free and alive. She left along with her campaign chief Maryya Maroz. But part of Svyatlana's team continues to be held hostage here" in Belarus.

SEE ALSO: As Belarus's Strongman Seeks To Extend His Embattled Rule, Moscow Watches Warily

Kavalkova said Tsikhanouskaya's campaign team would hold 'emergency consultations' later on August 11. But she said the campaign team now has two main goals -- to defend the choice of the Belarusian people and to stop violence and bloodshed.

'The situation is critical now,' Kavalkova said. 'No matter how difficult it is for all of us, we need to avoid violence. We must defend our victory in legal, nonviolent ways. We call on all democratic forces and supporters of change to unite.'

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Interior Ministry confirmed that one protester died in Minsk around nightfall on August 10. The ministry said an unidentified explosive device blew up in his hand as he was trying to throw it at police.

But witnesses and correspondents at the scene say police were shooting stun grenades into a crowd of protesters at the time of the demonstrator's death.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports that several thousand people were in the area at the time and traffic had been partially blocked as some demonstrators built barricades in central Minsk.

Access to the Internet remained blocked for a third day on August 11, and many correspondents in Belarus report they've been unable to use their mobile phones because their SIM cards have been blocked.

Tsikhanouskaya's team had been unable to reach her by phone on August 10 after she left the election commission building. Earlier she told reporters she considered herself to have won the election, not Lukashenka.

Preliminary official results announced by the Central Election Commission (TsVK) on August 10 gave Lukashenka a landslide victory with more than 80 percent of the vote while the official tally for Tsikhanouskaya was less than 10 percent.

Tsikhanouskaya entered the race after her husband, a popular vlogger and potential opposition candidate, was jailed.

She has said she now considers herself the election winner.

'The authorities are not listening to us. The authorities need to think about peaceful ways to hand over power,' she said on August 10. 'Of course we do not recognize the results.'

In its first comment since the election, the White House said it was 'deeply concerned by the Belarus presidential election...and we urge the Belarusian government to respect the right to peaceably assemble and to refrain from the use of force.'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that sentiment in a separate statement, urging the Belarusian government "to respect the rights of all Belarusians to participate in peaceful assembly, refrain from use of force, and release those wrongfully detained."

Britain had called on Belarus to refrain from further violence against protesters following what it called the 'seriously flawed' vote, while France urged security forces to exhibit 'the greatest restraint.'

The opposition said it was ready to hold talks with the authorities, but the government didn't respond.

Belarusians are upset over the economy, the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, and human rights abuses in Lukashenka's 26 years in office.

Lukashenka on August 10 repeated allegations that forces abroad were trying to manipulate protesters, whom he referred to as 'sheep,' in order to topple him.

'There were phone calls from Poland, Great Britain, and the Czech Republic, to manage our, sorry for my language, sheep,' Lukashenka said during a meeting with Sergei Lebedev, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

'They are trying to orchestrate mayhem,' said Lukashenka. 'But I have already warned: there will be no revolution.'

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, BelTA, Reuters, AP, and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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