Belarusian opposition leader flees to Lithuania after bloody clashes

Belarusian united opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya greets supporters as she visits a polling station during the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, August 9, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Belarusian opposition leader flees to Lithuania after bloody clashes

  • Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, emerged from obscurity to mount the biggest challenge in years to Alexander Lukashenko
  • Tikhanouskaya: I thought that this whole campaign really had hardened me and given me so much strength that I could handle anything, but I have made a very difficult decision for myself

MINSK: Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya said on Tuesday she had fled abroad for the sake of her children, after two nights of clashes following the contested re-election of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.
Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, emerged from obscurity to mount the biggest challenge in years to Lukashenko, taking her husband’s place in the campaign after he was jailed.
“You know, I thought that this whole campaign really had hardened me and given me so much strength that I could handle anything,” she said, explaining her decision in a somber video released on her husband’s YouTube channel.
“But, probably, I’m still the weak woman I was in the first place. I have made a very difficult decision for myself.”
Both she and the Belarusian authorities said she had not been forced to leave.
There had been concern about Tikhanouskaya’s whereabouts after her campaign team said on Monday they had been unable to reach her by phone hours after she was known to have left a meeting with central election commission officials.
By Tuesday morning she had joined her children in Lithuania. The state border committee later confirmed her departure.
“And I know that many people will understand me, many will judge me and many will hate me. But, you know, God forbid being faced with such a choice the I was faced with,” she said.
“So, people, take care please — no life is worth what is happening now. Children are the most important thing in our lives.”
At least one person died as police clashed with protesters on Monday after the opposition accused Lukashenko of rigging the vote amid widespread criticism from Western leaders.
Helmeted police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades and used batons to disperse thousands of people in Minsk in a second night of violence. Protesters set up barricades in several areas and threw petrol bombs.
Local media reported clashes in other towns.
In power for more than a quarter of a century, Lukashenko has compared the protesters to criminal gangs and dangerous revolutionaries with shadowy foreign backers.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the election was “not free and fair” and condemned “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters.”
Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to this month’s vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations of others who voiced opposition.
Tikhanouskaya’s campaign rallies drew some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. She was initially reluctant to stand, saying she had received an anonymous threat of having her children taken away.
She had moved them abroad during the campaign.
Her husband, Syarhei, had popularised a protest movement that compared Lukashenko to a cockroach character from a children’s fairytale. He was arrested in May.


Police clash with anti-lockdown protesters in London

Updated 19 September 2020

Police clash with anti-lockdown protesters in London

  • Scuffles broke out Saturday as police moved in to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who gathered in London’s central Trafalgar Square
  • Britain’s Conservative government imposed a ban on all social gatherings of more than six people this week in a bid to tackle a steep rise in COVID-19 cases in the country

LONDON: Police in London have clashed with protesters at a rally organized by opponents of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.
Scuffles broke out Saturday as police moved in to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who gathered in London’s central Trafalgar Square. Some protesters formed blockades to stop officers from making arrests, and traffic was brought to a halt in the busy area.
The “Resist and Act for Freedom” rally saw dozens of people holding banners and placards such as one reading “This is now Tyranny” and chanting “Freedom!” Police said there were “pockets of hostility and outbreaks of violence towards officers.”
Britain’s Conservative government imposed a ban on all social gatherings of more than six people this week in a bid to tackle a steep rise in COVID-19 cases in the country, but officials are considering even stricter restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that Britain is “now seeing a second wave” of the coronavirus, after seeing the same in France, Spain and across Europe.
Britain has Europe’s worst death toll in the pandemic with 41,821 confirmed virus-related deaths, but experts say all numbers undercount the true impact of the pandemic.
In a statement, British police said protesters were “putting themselves and others at risk” and urged all those at the London rally to disperse immediately or risk arrest.