Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition candidate in Belarus' presidential election, is in Lithuania, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said on Tuesday morning. He later said that her children were also in the country.
“She arrived in Lithuania and is safe now,” he told BNS on Tuesday morning.
Linkevičius later told LRT TV that Tikhanovskaya arrived in Lithuania in the early hours of Tuesday.
“The night was tense, she was detained for a very long time, some seven hours. We didn't know the circumstances of her detention nor her whereabouts,” he said.
“There was a threat [to Tikhanovkaya]. After I'd been trying to contact her for several hours, unsuccessfully, we started a search. There was a lot of communicating throughout the night, everyone was concerned,” Linkevičius told LRT TV. “She is now in a safe country, which is the most important thing.”
In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Linkevičius said that Tikhanovkaya's children were also in Lithuania.
Linkevičius said that the Belarusian presidential candidate had a Lithuanian visa and could stay in the country for up to a year. He refused to speculate whether Lithuania would give Tikhanovskaya political asylum, saying she would herself decide whether she needed it.
Lithuania learned about the presidential candidate's planned arrival in the early hours of Tuesday, according to Linkevičius, and had no prior knowledge of it.
She has been provided with a place to stay, according to the minister, where she needs to spend two weeks in self-quarantine due to the coronavirus regulations.
“Belarusian government representatives did not interfere with her arriving here, even made it possible,” Linkevičius said.
Tikhanovskaya came to Lithuania with her campaign chief Maria Moroz.
Several videos were published on Tuesday in which Tikhanovskaya is reading written statements. In one of them, she is asking Belarusians to stop protests.
According to Linkevičius, these videos were not filmed in Lithuania.
Tikhanovskaya: I made a very tough decision
Tikhanovskaya commented on her decision to leave Belarus in a video posted on Facebook on Tuesday noon.
“You know, I thought that the campaign had toughened me and gave me strength to endure everything. But I probably remained the weak woman I was in the beginning.
“I made a very tough decision and made it on my own: neither my friends, relatives, nor the campaign headquarters or Sergey could influence it.
“I know that many will understand me, many will condemn me and many will hate me. But god forbid anyone should have to make the choice I had to make. So people, take care of yourselves please, no life is worth what is happening right now. Children are the most important thing in our lives,” she said, in Russian, in the video.
Tikhanovskaya's spokeswoman Volha Kavalkova has told RFE/RL on Tuesday that she was taken out of the country by Belarusian authorities.
“Svetlana had no choice,” Kavalkova said. “It is important that she is free and alive. She left along with her campaign chief Maryya Maroz. But part of Svetlana’s team continues to be held hostage here” in Belarus.
Kavalkova said the campaign team would hold “emergency consultations” later on Tuesday and were now focused on defending the choice of the Belarusian people and stopping violence.
On Monday, Tikhanovskaya refused to concede victory to Alexander Lukashenko whom the officially announced results gave 80 percent of the vote.
Opponents to Lukashenko's autocratic rule maintain the results were rigged and Tikhanovskaya said she was the real winner.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Minsk and other Belarusian cities to protest the result of Sunday's controversial presidential election.
Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old teacher of English, decided to run for president after her husband, Sergey Tikhanovsky, a popular blogger, was arrested. She has promised to hold a new, fair election if elected.
A number of members of her election campaign have been arrested over the past week, too.
The media reported on Tuesday night that Tikhanovskaya was being held at the Central Electoral Commission headquarters, but she was later allowed to leave and contacted her campaign headquarters.
Belarusian police clashed with protesters for a second evening in Minsk on Monday.
One protester died, the Interior Ministry reported, alleging that he intended to throw an explosive device, but it blew up in his hand.
Security services used tear gas and shot rubber bullets at people attending peaceful demonstrations as well as detaining a number of protesters, according to reports by independent Belarusian media. Access to central squares and streets was barred.
Police dragged protesters out of the crowd and beat them with truncheons. More than 30 people were arrested, reported news agency Reuters, citing an eyewitness.
Concern from neighbours
The foreign ministers of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine issued a joint statement on Monday evening, urging the Belarusian authorities not to use force against the protesters.
“As Foreign Ministers of the Lublin Triangle States, we are deeply concerned about the escalation of the situation in Belarus after the presidential election and call upon the authorities to refrain from the use of force and to release all those detained last night,” they said.
The ministers have also offered to mediate in facilitating dialogue between the government and the opposition.
“We are confident that only by means of dialogue the current situation can be resolved for the benefit of the people and the state of Belarus,” they said.
On Monday, four bridges in Vilnius were illuminated in the white–red–white colours of the Belarusian flag used by the opposition.
“Vilnius is sending a message of support to the democracy-seeking Belarus,” the city's authorities said in a statement.