Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya yesterday said she had fled abroad for the sake of her children, after two nights of clashes following the contested re-election of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.
Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, emerged from obscurity to mount the biggest challenge in years to Lukashenko, taking her husband's place in the campaign. Her husband, Syarhei, had popularised a protest movement that compared Lukashenko to a cockroach character from a children's fairytale. He was arrested in May.
"You know, I thought that this whole campaign really had hardened me and given me so much strength that I could handle anything," she said, explaining her decision in a sombre video released on her husband's YouTube channel.
She said she left the country to join with her children in Lithuania. She had moved them abroad during the election campaign over security concerns.
"But, probably, I'm still the weak woman I was in the first place. ... And I know that many people will understand me, many will judge me and many will hate me. But, you know, God forbid being faced with such a choice the I was faced with."
Both she and the Belarusian authorities said she had not been forced to leave. At least one person died as police clashed with protesters on Monday after the opposition accused Lukashenko of rigging the vote amid widespread criticism from Western leaders.