Belarus opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Tuesday she fled to neighboring Lithuania, after a second night of post-election demonstrations in Belarus with clashes between protesters and police.
Tsikhanouskaya, who rejected the official results that showed her losing to longtime President Alexander Lukashenko, said leaving Belarus was a “difficult decision,” but that she did so for the sake of her children.
"I know that many will understand me, many will judge me, and many will begin to hate me," Tsikhanouskaya said. "But God forbid anyone face the choice I had."
"People please take care of yourselves," she said. "What is happening now is not worth a single life."
Earlier Tuesday, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted that Tsikhanouskaya was in his country and safe.
Tsikhanouskaya went into hiding ahead of Sunday’s election after police detained two senior staffers and seven other campaign members. She reemerged to cast her vote.
Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, said Monday that opposition protesters would face a tough crackdown. He described them as sheep manipulated by foreign masters.
"Follow the law and then all these conversations about repression disappear,” he said.
Video of the clashes show protesters being beaten by police with truncheons Monday night. Police also used stun grenades, tear gas and water cannon.
Police said Monday that one protester died in the country’s capital, Minsk, when he tried to throw an explosive device, but it blew up in his hand.
Rights groups said a protester died after being run over by a police truck, which authorities denied. Rights groups also said dozens of people have been injured in the police crackdown. Several hundred protesters have been arrested.
Photos and videos of the protests circulated online, despite a widespread shutdown of the internet limiting access to social media.
The country's Central Election Commission said Monday that after all ballots were counted, Lukashenko took 80.23% of the votes, and main opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 9.9%.
Speaking from her headquarters, Tsikhanouskaya said she did not recognize the outcome.
"We have already won because we have overcome our fear, our apathy and our indifference,” she said. Tsikhanouskaya submitted a formal request for a recount to the Central Election Commission.
International officials also questioned the legitimacy of the election, as well as the crackdown on protesters. Foreign observers have not considered a Belarusian election to be free and fair since 1995, Reuters reported.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday it was “deeply concerned” by the situation, noting that intimidations and restrictions on ballot access for opposition candidates, as well as a lack of independent observers at polling stations, have “marred the process.”
“We urge the Belarusian government to respect the rights of all Belarusians to participate in peaceful assembly, refrain from use of force, and release those wrongfully detained,” Pompeo said. “We strongly condemn ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters, as well as the use of internet shutdowns to hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations.”
“Harassment & violent repression of peaceful protesters has no place in Europe,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter. “I call on the Belarusian authorities to ensure that the votes in yesterday’s election are counted & published accurately.”
Harassment & violent repression of peaceful protesters has no place in Europe.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) August 10, 2020
Fundamental rights in #Belarus must be respected.
I call on the Belarusian authorities to ensure that the votes in yesterday’s election are counted & published accurately.
In a joint statement, the presidents of neighboring Poland and Lithuania encouraged Belarus to cooperate with the European Union and “uphold basic democratic standards."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the organization “condemns violence against peaceful protesters.”
“Fundamental rights must be respected,” he said.
NEW: @NATO "expressed serious concerns over the conduct of the presidential election in #Belarus" per SecGen @jensstoltenberg— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) August 10, 2020
"NATO condemns violence against peaceful protestors. Fundamental rights must be respected, including freedom of speech & the right to peaceful protest"
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenko Monday on his victory.
Protests were held in other Belarusian cities, including Gomel, Grodno, Vitebsk and Brest, where tear gas was fired.