The main opposition candidate in Sunday’s disputed presidential election in Belarus has left the country after security forces mounted a sweeping crackdown on protests over the result.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who stood in for her husband as an opposition candidate after he was jailed in the run-up to the vote, was forced out of the country and is now in neighboring Lithuania with her children, her campaign said Tuesday.
Tikhanovskaya fled after publicly rejecting preliminary election results that handed the longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide victory. But many details around her departure are still unclear.
Protests erupted after official exit polls were released late Sunday, granting a sixth term to Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years and earned the nickname “Europe’s last dictator.” Thousands were arrested and the demonstrations resumed on Monday night.
Tikhanovskaya’s campaign and independent observers say the vote was marred with widespread ballot stuffing and falsifications. The independent monitoring group “Honest people” said that according to its data, she had won in at least 80 polling stations across Belarus.
On Monday, Tikhanovskaya “left to an unknown location” after filing a complaint with Belarus’ central elections committee demanding a recount of the votes. After spending several hours at the committee alone, she came out and told her lawyer that “she made up her mind” and left the building, according to her campaign.
The campaign could not reach her for several hours before she got in touch to confirm she was safe. Lithuania’s foreign affairs minister announced early on Tuesday that Tikhanovskaya was in the country.