Belarus’s main opposition leader says she made a “very difficult decision” to leave the country after opposing an election result she claimed was rigged.
In a YouTube video, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said she did it for her children as the protests continued for a second night. One person has died.
She was “safe” now in Lithuania, the country̵7;s foreign minister said.
Poll results gave President Alexander Lukashenko 80% of the vote, but there have been numerous allegations of fraud.
Violent clashes between police and protesters have erupted over the two nights since the election and there have been numerous reports of police brutality.
Mr Lukashenko, 65, who has ruled the former Soviet Union since 1994, has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from outside.
But Ms. Tikhanovskaya has galvanized the opposition, which posed a stronger challenge than ever for autocratic leaders. The 37-year-old announced her candidacy after her husband was arrested and blocked from registering to vote.
When she tried to file a complaint about the results Monday, she was held in custody for seven hours.
A second video of her has now been shown, which was apparently made during her detention. In it she calls on her supporters not to join the protests or confront the police.
Did Ms. Tikhanovskaya say anything?
In an exciting video address to supporters (in Russian) recorded before her departure for Lithuania, Ms. Tikhanovskaya said she had overestimated her strength.
“I thought this campaign had really opened me up and given me enough strength to be able to afford anything,” she said.
“But I think I’m still the same weak woman I was.”
She said her decision to leave was taken “completely independently” and was not influenced by anyone around her, although many people would “condemn” or “hate” her for it.
“No life is worth what is happening now,” she added. “Children are the most important things in our lives.”
Ms. Tikhanovskaya sent her children to Lithuania for security before the election.
Earlier, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted about Ms Tikhanovskaya’s whereabouts following rumors that she had disappeared.
There had been concern about her Monday but her campaign later said she was “safe”, without saying where.
Mr Linkevicius told the BBC Ms Tikhanovskaya had been detained for seven hours in Belarus.
“It seems she visited the election committee, filed a complaint … but she stayed,” he said.
“For [say] that she was visiting the election committee with a friendly visit would be very good. She was stopped.
“The option to leave the country was found to be the only rational one [one], Understand “
An aide to the opposition leader said she had been escorted out of the country by authorities as part of a deal to allow the release of her campaign manager, Maria Moroz, who was arrested on Friday evening. Mr Linkevicius confirmed that the two women had left the country together.
Who is Svetlana Tikhanovskaya?
The election campaign featured the rise of Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, a former teacher who was a stay-at-home mother until she came into the political spotlight.
President Lukashenko has dismissed Ms Tikhanovskaya as a “little girl” manipulated by foreign “doll masters”.
- Political innovation that challenges an authoritarian president
After the vote took place, her campaign said the results – which gave her only 9.9% of the vote – “did not correspond to reality” and vowed to challenge “numerous falsifications”.
Ms. Tikhanovskaya told reporters that she had actually won the election and called on the authorities to relinquish power peacefully. The protests began as soon as the polls closed.
However, Mr Lukashenko said he would respond strongly to the protests and would not allow the country to fall apart.
A symbol of change, not a leader
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya disappeared after filing a formal complaint about the election result. She was quoted as saying “I have made my decision”, but no one can confirm her whereabouts for many hours.
Now the foreign minister of neighboring Lithuania says she is there – and safe. How this happened is not yet clear.
On Monday, the KGB security service in Belarus claimed to have foiled a plot to assassinate an opposition candidate – and to turn him into a “sacrificial lamb” for protesters. At a press conference in Minsk, she looked nervous, a little insecure; the same day she told the BBC she was scared.
The fact that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has fled will not affect the unprecedented mass protests that have rocked Belarus for a second night – the crowd clashed with riot police.
They were organized through social media – mainly Telegram – not by her campaign team and the candidate did not join them in person. She ran only for president after her activist husband was arrested – and to voters, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has always been a symbol of change, a path to it, rather than a leader.
Happened what happened in Monday’s protests?
Riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and rocket-propelled grenades to disperse thousands of demonstrators gathering in the capital.
The brutality of the strike shocked observers as many of these weapons were not used in Belarus before the weekend.
Polish-based broadcaster Belsat TV broadcast police footage accusing the crowds.
Reports say some of the demonstrators were attacked, throwing gasoline bombs. Protesters also tried to build barricades.
Officials say a demonstrator died when an explosive device came out of his hands – the first confirmed fatality since the clashes began.
A number of people were arrested. A journalist was injured, her colleagues and eyewitnesses said.
The BBC’s Abdujalil Abdurasulov in Minsk says protesters were escorted into police vans and the sound of beatings could be heard as officers entered and people inside shouted for help.
The scale of the protests and the violence used to disperse the crowds are unprecedented, and protesters are trying to find out the whereabouts of missing friends and relatives, our correspondent adds.
Protests were also taking place in other Belarusian cities.
The internet, which was “significantly disrupted” on election day, continued to be largely unavailable for a second day, according to online monitor NetBlocks.
What is the context?
In the last presidential election in 2015, Mr Lukashenko was declared the winner with 83.5% of the vote. There were no serious challengers, and election observers reported problems counting and collecting votes.
Anger at Mr Lukashenko’s government this time has been driven in part by its response to the coronavirus.
The president has downplayed the blast, advising citizens to drink vodka and use saunas to fight the disease.
Belarus, which has a population of 9.5 million, has reported nearly 70,000 cases and almost 600 deaths.