The opposition leader in Belarus said Tuesday that she has fled to Lithuania following widespread protests against the contested re-election of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher who took over her husband’s campaign after he was jailed, told supporters that the decision to leave the country was her choice and made to protect her children.
“It was a very hard decision to make,” she said. “I know that many of you will understand me, many others will condemn me and some will even hate me. But God forbid you ever face the choice that I faced.”
“So, people, take care please – no life is worth what is happening now. Children are the most important thing in our lives,” she said.
Questions were raised on Monday about Tikhanovskaya’s whereabouts when her campaign aides were unable to reach her after she left a meeting with central election officials.
Her husband, Syarhei, was arrested in May after organizing pro-democracy protests and after comparing Lukashenko to a cockroach in a popular children’s fairy tale.
Thousands of protesters have been clashing with police in Belarus since Lukashenko’s overwhelming victory in Sunday’s election, with at least one death among the demonstrators.
Police used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets to try to disperse the protesters — and even beat some with batons.
Lukashenko, whose rule began in 1994, has called the protesters “sheep” manipulated by foreign masters.
He won 80 percent of the vote to Tikhanovskaya’s 10 percent, according to election officials.
The Trump administration spoke out against the harsh response to protests.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters” and said the election was “not free and fair.”
At the White House on Monday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany expressed support for the protests and questioned the integrity of the election process.
“Severe restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation of opposition candidates and the detention of peaceful protesters and journalists have marred the process and we urge the Belarusian government to respect the right of people to peaceably assemble and to refrain from the use of force,” she said.
With Post Wires