Belarus: Opposition leader leaves country as anti-government protests claim first fatality

Country rocked by violent clashed between police and protestors since self-styled dictator claimed scarcely credible victory

Oliver Carroll
Moscow
Tuesday 11 August 2020 08:07 BST
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Police and protesters clash after Belarus presidential vote

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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the unlikely opposition leader who by some accounts won Sunday’s presidential elections, left Belarus for neighbouring Lithuania early on Tuesday morning.

News of her departure, broken in a tweet by the Lithuanian foreign minister, came after violent post-election clashes claimed their first life.

In a video released to supporters, Ms Tikhanovskaya seemed to suggest her decision had followed threats to her children.

“Children are the most important thing in life,” she said. “God forbid anyone to face the choice I faced.”

According to aide Olga Kovalkova, the opposition leader was transported out of the country by authorities during the night. “Svetlana didn’t have a choice. The important thing is she is free and alive,” Kovalkova told Tut.by, an independent Belarusian news site. “She left together with [staff member] Maria Moroz, but part of her team is still being held hostage”

The opposition leader disappeared on Monday following a three-hour meeting with officials including elections chief Lidiya Yermoshina. It is unclear what was discussed at that meeting. In a video apparently recorded under duress in Ms Yermoshina’s office, the candidate called for her supporters not to engage in protest or oppose police.

Belarus has been rocked by two nights of violence following Sunday’s presidential vote in which Alexander Lukhashenko, Belarus’ 26-year “dictator”, claimed a scarcely credible 80 per cent of the vote.

The scenes on Monday night largely continued the drama and shock-and-awe repression set the day before. Security forces loyal to the president used rubber bullets, stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons against increasingly defiant protesters in the capital. The latter made several attempts to erect barriers in the city centre – each time they destroyed by police vans.

In a statement late in the evening, police spokesperson Olga Chemodanova confirmed a man died in the clashes, but claimed he had caused his own death while attempting to throw an explosive device. The Independent understands several others are in a critical condition in hospital.

Many people remain missing, with thousands understood to be arrested. On Tuesday, the popular social media channel Nexta published footage purporting to show concentration camp-like conditions in a central Minsk police station: dozens of prisoners are shown lying face down.

At a press conference earlier on Monday, Ms Tikhanovskaya refused to accept the official results of Sunday’s election, and insisted she had no plans to leave the country.

"I don't see any reason why I should be sent to jail, and I don't intend to [leave]," she said.

The Belarusian opposition plans to move to the next stage of their protest on Tuesday, with the start of a nationwide strike.

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