Belarusian leader flees to Lithuania amid political unrest and violence over election results

Belarus opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left her country amid political unrest and violence over Sunday’s disputed presidential elections.

Lithuanian foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius in a tweet said Ms Tikhanovskaya is “safe” in Lithuania.

Election Results:

Long-serving Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term with 80.23% of the vote, the central electoral commission said on Monday, a result the opposition says was rigged.

Ms Lukashenko’s main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, won 9.9%, central electoral commission chief Lidia Yermoshina said.

Tikhanovskaya rejected the results and demanded authorities transfer power to the opposition.

Demonstrators and riot police clashed in Belarus’s capital Minsk. Many chanted “Get out” and other anti-government slogans. Police used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon against demonstrators.

Police in Belarus detained some 3,000 people for taking part in the unauthorized gatherings. Belarusian human rights group Viasna claimed one protester died.

Similar protests took place in Brest, Gomel, Grodno and other cities.

Ms Tikhanovskaya went missing after formally filing a complaint over the election result amid media presence. Nobody could confirm her whereabouts for several hours.

Later, Lithuanian foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius told Lithuanian radio that Ms Tikhanovskaya had been detained for seven hours in Belarus but did not say why or by whom.

Linkevicius said Ms Tikhanovskaya entered Lithuania with her campaign manager, Maria Moroz, who was arrested before the election on Friday evening.

Rise of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya:

Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, a former teacher entered the election in place of her jailed husband and went on to lead large opposition rallies.

After her husband was arrested and blocked from registering for the vote, she stepped in to take his place.

The lead-up to Sunday’s poll saw a crackdown on activists and journalists amid the country’s biggest opposition demonstrations in years.

Anger towards Mr Lukashenko’s government has been in part fuelled by the response to coronavirus.

The president has downplayed the outbreak, advising citizens to drink vodka and use saunas to fight the disease. Mr Lukashenko is in power since 1994.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s campaign has said she had been polling 70-80% in some areas.

Tikhanovskaya’s campaign has also claimed the lack of scrutiny, with no observers present during polls has led to rigging of ballots.

International Reaction:

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his Belarusian counterpart. Leaders of China and several former Soviet nations have sent messages of support.

But the US said it was “deeply concerned” by the election and urged the government to “respect the right to peacefully assemble and to refrain from the use of force”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the election results to be published, saying harassment and repression had no place in Europe.

Individual EU countries expressed support for the demonstrators, and neighbouring Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said doubts over the election were “a direct road to violence, conflict and growing public outcry”.