Protests erupted Tuesday for a third straight night in Belarus after the top opposition candidate in Sunday’s presidential election fled the country for her children’s safety.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya sent a video message to her supporters asking them to forgive her going to Lithuania at this time.
“It was a very hard decision to make. I know that many of you will understand me, many others will condemn me, and some will even hate me. But God forbid you ever face the choice that I faced. Children are the main thing in life,” she said.
Her supporters say they believe she was forced to read from a prepared text when she told protesters not to confront police and show “respect for the law.”
Tsikhanouskaya was the only serious challenger to longtime authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who the election commission says won a sixth term with 80% of the vote to her 10%. She says she will not recognize the results.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Belarus’s election was “not free and fair” and condemned “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also alleges election fraud.
Tsikhanouskaya jumped into the race late after her husband, Syarhei, an anti-government blogger and potential opposition candidate, was jailed in May.
Belarusian police used rubber bullets and stun grenades against anti-government demonstrators who turned out for the third consecutive night Tuesday.
Witnesses report police beating protesters before arresting them and smashing car windows before pulling people out of the vehicles.
Earlier Tuesday, people left flowers at a place in Minsk where a demonstrator was killed Monday.
Belarusian officials say more than 2,000 people have been arrested since Sunday.
The European Union is accusing the Lukashenko’s government of “disproportionate and unacceptable violence” and said it was reviewing its relations with Belarus.
Lukashenko has called the protesters criminals and dangerous revolutionaries.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since it declared independence from Russia in 1991. He has been accused of suppressing free speech, ignoring human rights and showing little tolerance for dissent.