MINSK (Reuters) - Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya said on Tuesday she had fled abroad for the sake of her children after strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko’s claim of victory in Sunday’s presidential election prompted bloody street protests.
Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher who took her husband’s place on the ballot after he was jailed, fled to neighbouring Lithuania. She urged her compatriots not to oppose the police and to avoid putting their lives in danger.
But unrest erupted for a third night in a row on Tuesday as security forces fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse thousands of protesters who took to the streets accusing Lukashenko, in power since 1994, of swindling the vote.
A Reuters witness saw security forces detaining dozens of people and beating protesters in the street. Another saw security forces smashing car windows and dragging some people out of vehicles to attack them. A third saw at least two news photographers being attacked and their cameras damaged.
Car horns blared in solidarity with the opposition, and people marched, clapped and shouted “go away”.
The European Union earlier accused Lukashenko’s government of “disproportionate and unacceptable violence” and said it was reviewing its relations with Minsk.
Although Tikhanouskaya’s husband Syarhei, an anti-government blogger, remains in jail in Belarus, she was reunited with her children in Lithuania. She had moved them earlier after receiving anonymous threats about their safety.
“You know, I thought that this whole campaign had really toughened me up and given me so much strength that I could handle anything,” she said in an emotional video.
“But, probably, I’m still the weak woman I was in the first place. I have made a very difficult decision for myself,” she said, adding that the political tumult in Belarus was not worth anyone losing their life for.
“Children are the main thing in life,” said Tikhanouskaya.