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People lay flowers where a protester died in Minsk, Belarus People lay flowers where a protester died in Minsk, Belarus  (ANSA)

Belarus opposition leader flees to Lithuania amid crackdown

The primary political opponent of the longtime president of Belarus has reportedly fled the nation amid a massive police crackdown on protests. Lithuania says it provides shelter to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who earlier brought her young children outside the country.

By Stefan J. Bos

The announcement comes after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner in Sunday's presidential poll despite mounting opposition against his rule.  

Lithuania's foreign minister confirmed Tuesday that the top opposition candidate in Belarus' presidential election who refused to concede her defeat had fled her nation.

Linas Linkevicius' said on social networking site Twitter that Tsikhanouskaya is now "safe" in Lithuania. She arrived after the police broke up opposition protests.

Tsikhanouskaya previously dismissed the official results of Sunday's president ballot. Official results showed authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko winning a sixth term by a landslide of 80 percent of the vote.

Thousands of opposition supporters who also protested the results met with a severe police crackdown in Minsk, the capital, and several other Belarusian cities for two straight nights. On Monday, a demonstrator died amid the clashes in Minsk. Scores were injured as police used tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets to disperse the protestors.

Government denies wrongdoing

Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Lastovsky claimed the victim intended to throw an explosive device. But it allegedly blew up in his hand and killed him.

Protests have been fueled partly by mounting frustration over a declining economy and political repression under 65-year-old President Lukashenko.

But in a reaction, Lukashenko made clear he won't except opposition against his rule. "They [protesters] are trying to throw us this mess. I warned you that there would be no Euromaidan," he said, referring to Ukraine's pro-democracy Revolution several years ago.

Lukashenko added: "No matter how much someone wants it. So we need to calm down, and the parents need to watch where their children are so that they won't be hurt later."

He also claims that his opponent  Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya doesn't know what she is doing. That didn't appear to be when Tsikhanouskaya appeared in front of thousands of supporters before she fled the nation.

Husband remains behind bars

The 37-year-old former English teacher has been campaigning on behalf of her husband, a popular blogger. Sergei Tikhanovsky was jailed on what he views as trumped-up charges of assaulting a police officer and organizing mass riots.  "I am not a politician, and I don't need power," Tsikhanouskaya told her supporters.

"But my husband is behind bars. I had to hide my children for their safety. I sacrificed a peaceful life for all of our sakes. I am tired of being patient. I am tired of being silent. I am tired of being afraid."

There is international concern about her plight and the situation in Belarus that the U.S. described as Europe's last dictatorship.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the election was not "free and fair." He added: "We strongly condemn ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters."

The European Union also condemned the police crackdown and called for an immediate release of all those detained.

11 August 2020, 15:56