Belarus opposition leader is safe in Lithuania

Belarus opposition challenger Svetlana Tikhanouskaya is in Lithuania and is safe, the Baltic country's foreign minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP on Tuesday, after a second night of clashes in Minsk. The whereabouts of Tikhanouskaya, a political novice who has claimed victory in Sunday’s poll in Belarus against President Alexander Lukashenko, had been unknown as of late Monday.

In a video released on Tuesday, Tikhanouskaya said that she had made a difficult decision to leave her country for Lithuania. She indicated she had left Belarus to be with her two children, who had earlier been taken out of the authoritarian ex-Soviet country for their own safety. “Children are the most important thing we have in life,” said the 37-year-old. “You know I thought that this campaign had really steeled me and given me the strength to endure everything,” she said. “But I probably remained the weak woman I was at the beginning,” she said. “I know that many will understand me, many will judge me, and many will begin to hate me,” Tikhanouskaya said. “But God forbid anyone face the choice I had.”

EU and NATO member Lithuania, which was also once part of the Soviet Union, has a history of granting refuge to Belarusian and Russian opposition figures. “Vilnius has a history of Belarusian opposition concentration. It is also the convenient geographical location because it is close to Minsk,” Vilnius university analyst Laurynas Jonavicius told AFP. The Lithuanian capital hosts an EU-funded Belarusian university in exile, the European Humanities University, after Lukashenko shut it down in 2004.

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