Belarusian opposition leader flees to Lithuania after bloody clashes

Belarusian united opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya greets supporters as she visits a polling station during the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, August 9, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Belarusian opposition leader flees to Lithuania after bloody clashes

  • Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, emerged from obscurity to mount the biggest challenge in years to Alexander Lukashenko
  • Tikhanouskaya: I thought that this whole campaign really had hardened me and given me so much strength that I could handle anything, but I have made a very difficult decision for myself

MINSK: Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya said on Tuesday 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 after he was jailed.
“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 somber video released on her husband’s YouTube channel.
“But, probably, I’m still the weak woman I was in the first place. I have made a very difficult decision for myself.”
Both she and the Belarusian authorities said she had not been forced to leave.
There had been concern about Tikhanouskaya’s whereabouts after her campaign team said on Monday they had been unable to reach her by phone hours after she was known to have left a meeting with central election commission officials.
By Tuesday morning she had joined her children in Lithuania. The state border committee later confirmed her departure.
“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,” she said.
“So, people, take care please — no life is worth what is happening now. Children are the most important thing in our lives.”
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.
Helmeted police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades and used batons to disperse thousands of people in Minsk in a second night of violence. Protesters set up barricades in several areas and threw petrol bombs.
Local media reported clashes in other towns.
In power for more than a quarter of a century, Lukashenko has compared the protesters to criminal gangs and dangerous revolutionaries with shadowy foreign backers.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the election was “not free and fair” and condemned “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters.”
Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus since 1995, and the run-up to this month’s vote saw authorities jail Lukashenko’s rivals and open criminal investigations of others who voiced opposition.
Tikhanouskaya’s campaign rallies drew some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. She was initially reluctant to stand, saying she had received an anonymous threat of having her children taken away.
She had moved them abroad during 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.


UK science advisers warn public on COVID-19 rates

Updated 21 September 2020

UK science advisers warn public on COVID-19 rates

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases
  • The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week

LONDON: Britain’s top medical adviser says the country has, in a “very bad sense,” turned a corner on COVID-19 infection rates, with figures suggesting there will be an exponential growth in the disease unless action is taken.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty told the public on Monday that rates are going in the “wrong direction” amid expectations the government is preparing to announce new measures to control the pandemic.
“We have in a very bad sense, literally turned a corner,” after weeks of increasing infection rates.
Whitty said that if nothing is done, new infections will rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October. Hospitalizations are also doubling in seven to eight days — leading to more deaths.
There was also no indication that the virus had lessened in severity, he said. “We see no evidence that this is true.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled with ministers over the weekend to discuss how the government will respond to the recent rise in cases, which has pushed infection rates to levels last seen in May. Later this week the government is expected to announce a slate of short-term restrictions that will act as a “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of the disease.
The government is hoping to keep that number from climbing back to the peak levels of early April, when more than 5,000 cases a day were being reported.
While death rates have remained relatively low so far, public health officials warn that deaths are likely to rise in coming weeks.
The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week, compared with a peak of 942 on April 10.
The government last week imposed tighter restrictions on communities in northeastern England, where the infection rate first began to rise. Bars and restaurants in those areas must now close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and people are prohibited from socializing with individuals from other households.
The rise in infection rates comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum criticize the government’s testing program. While government ministers tout the record numbers of tests being performed, there are widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles for tests and tests being voided because it is taking labs too long to process them.
An effective testing program is seen as essential to controlling the pandemic because it allows the government to track infections and inform people when they should self-isolate.