Lukashenko’s main rival, political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, is now in Lithuania, according to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius. He said Tuesday on Twitter that Tikhanovskaya is “safe.”
Tikhanovskaya’s campaign told Tut.by, an independent Belarusan media site, that she agreed to leave Belarus as part of a deal she made with authorities to free Maria Moroz, her campaign manager, who was detained on the eve of Sunday’s election. Moroz is now in Lithuania with Tikhanovskaya.
“Svetlana had no other choice. Belarusan authorities took her out of the country. What’s important is that she is free and alive,” Olga Kovalkova, a member of Tikhanovskaya’s campaign, told the news site.
Then Tikhanovskaya posted a cryptic and emotional video to YouTube, recorded from Lithuania, in which she seems to be saying she left Belarus for the sake of her children.
“I thought that this election campaign had made me strong and had given me the power to withstand anything, but perhaps I remain that weak woman that I was initially,” she said in the video. “I have made a very difficult decision. I made that decision absolutely by myself: no friends, my staff or [my husband] could affect it in any way.
“I know that many people will understand me, many will judge me, and many will hate me, but God forbid you face such a choice that I had to face,” she added. “That’s why I say, people, take care of yourselves, please. What is going on right now is not worth a single lost life. Children are the most important thing in our life.”
In a second video posted more than an hour later, Tikhanovskaya spoke in a monotone voice and appeared to be reading a prepared statement. She asked her supporters to stop protesting and said, “The people of Belarus have made their choice” in the election.
Social media sleuths pointed out the similarities in the decor to old photos from inside a Belarusan Central Elections Commission chairperson’s office, where Tikhanovskaya reportedly spent two to three hours alone on Monday night.
“Then Svetlana came out to the lawyer, said that she made up her mind, said goodbye to him,” Tikhanovskaya’s press secretary, Anna Krasulina, told Russia’s MBKh Media on Monday night. “Then she was escorted through a different door and left to an unknown location.”
After Tikhanovskaya’s campaign was unable to reach her for several hours, it later said she reached out in a message to say she’s “all right” but did not supply any further details.
On Tuesday, Maria Kolesnikova, who was also part of Tikhanovskaya’s campaign, told reporters that Tikhanovskaya spoke with two senior officers of the security services while at the Central Elections Committee office and did not rule out that threats were made against her.
Tikhanovskaya, 37, said earlier Monday that she did not plan to flee the country. But her husband, a popular opposition blogger, was jailed in May, and she previously said she sent her children abroad after receiving threats that they would be placed in an orphanage. She went into hiding the night before the election.
Linkevicius, the Lithuanian foreign minister, said at a news conference Tuesday that Tikhanovskaya “faced certain pressure and did not have much choice but to leave the country.”
“The other choice was not compatible with freedom, so she needed to take the offered possibility to leave the country,” he said, adding that she’s in Lithuania on a one-year visa.
Tikhanovskaya is now the country’s second presidential hopeful seeking refuge outside the country. In the run-up to Sunday’s election, Valery Tsepkalo, a former Belarusan ambassador to the United States, was not allowed to register as a candidate and fled to Russia. Two other candidates were previously detained.
The opposition has called for “long-term” protests to challenge the official election results. But Lukashenko pledged “a proper response” to the opposition rallies that have broken out nationwide and said that “there will be no Maidan-type” public uprising, referring to the revolution in Ukraine that resulted in the ouster of the country’s president in 2014.
Near the Pushkinskaya metro station in Minsk, several thousand protesters tried to build barricades on Monday night before being dispersed by police. Some videos posted to social media showed police running away from charging protesters.
The Belarusan Interior Ministry said late Monday that one protester in Minsk was killed during a confrontation with security forces by an “unidentified explosive device” that detonated in his hand. Another protester was reportedly killed Sunday night, according to human rights organizations, when a police vehicle drove into him, but government officials have denied that.