Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya said she fled the country as protests swept through Belarus following the controversial re-election of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
In a short YouTube clip released Tuesday, Tsikhanouskaya said she left to reunite with her children, whom she said she moved abroad after receiving anonymous threats in your election campaign. She did not specify her whereabouts, but a few hours earlier, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted that Tsikhanouskaya is in Lithuania, bordering Belarus.
“It was a very difficult decision for me,”; Tsikhanouskaya, 37, said on the brink of tears. “I know a lot of people will understand me, a lot of people will judge me and a lot of people will hate me.”
A Tsikhanouskaya spokesman did not immediately return NBC News’s request for comment. More details will be released later on Tuesday, the Lithuanian foreign ministry said.
Belarus officials were not immediately available to comment.
Tsikhanouskaya officially won 10 percent of the vote in Sunday’s elections, compared with 80 percent of Lukashenko, but the results were opposed by the Belarus opposition.
She became an unexpected opposition star in the months leading up to the election, gathering tens of thousands of supporters, along with two other female opposition figures, in one of the greatest dissatisfaction that Belarus had ever seen in a decade. She promises to call a new, fair election if she wins.
Tsikhanouskaya joined the race after her husband, a political blogger who had hoped to run for president, was jailed. Her passing could be a bitter pill for her supporters who have been opposed to the results since Sunday.
With early exit polls showing Lukashenko’s leading Sunday night, thousands of people flocked to the streets in the capital Minsk and several other cities.
Police suppressed protesters with tear gas and stun grenades amid widespread power outages on the internet and cell phones.
The country’s Interior Ministry said 89 people were injured in the protests late Sunday and early Monday, including 39 law enforcement officers, and about 3,000 people were detained.
The protests continued on Monday night, with police using cannons and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of people in Minsk. Demonstrators also set up barricades in some areas and threw Molotov cocktails.
One protester was dead, the Associated Press reported, quoting the Interior Ministry.
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During a press conference on Monday, Tsikhanouskaya, looking tired and depressed, refused to concede.
“Of course we do not accept these results,” she told reporters.
Meanwhile, Lukashenko expressed defiance, calling the opposition “sheep” manipulated by foreign masters.
“We will not allow them to divide the country,” he said.
The owner of the former Soviet collective ranch has ruled Belarus, a nation of 9.5 million people, with an iron fist since 1994.
But long-standing grievances about a sluggish economy, human rights and Lukashenko’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic sparked outcry this year.
The police’s crackdown on protesters has attracted harsh criticism from European and American officials and will likely complicate Lukashenko’s attempts to heal relations with the West amid tensions with Russia, his main ally.
In a statement on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the elections were “not free and fair,” condemning the ongoing violence.