Belarus’s main opposition leader said she will return home when she feels safe as she urged people to overcome their fears and keep pushing for new elections.
Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, appearing in public on Friday for the first time since fleeing for next door Lithuania, urged incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko to listen to the public’s demands for him to step down.
“I think that every person in our country feels fear and is scared now,” she said, speaking at a press conference at a hotel in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
“But it is our mission to step further over our fear and move further.”
Image: The 37-year-old former teacher leaves the press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania
In a calm and composed performance for a political novice, she urged a continuation of peaceful protests against the regime and called for dialogue to resolve the crisis that has consumed Belarus since disputed presidential elections on 9 August.
“It should be clear to the president that there is a need for change. I hope that good sense prevails and the people will be heard and there will be new elections,” she said.
“We don’t want to live in fear and falsehoods anymore.”
More from Belarus
The former English teacher and mother of two, speaking largely in Russian, told reporters that she had never wanted to become a politician but it was the “will of destiny”.
She took over as the main opposition candidate to Mr Lukashenko after her husband, an activist and blogger, was arrested and barred from running.
EU imposes sanctions on Belarus
Mrs Tikhanouskaya, 37, said it was a “choice between freedom and fear, between lies and truth, between love for my country and obedience to the system. I have made my choice.”
Asked when she planned to return to Belarus and whether she was willing to risk arrest if Mr Lukashenko remained in power, she said: “I love my country very much. I want to be back there. I will return there when I feel safe.”
She declined to answer a question about whether she was put under pressure to leave Belarus.
There have been reports that her two children might have been used as leverage against her to stop her from challenging the regime – a tactic the government is known to have used before against opponents.
Her focus for the press conference was on three demands to the regime in Minsk – end state violence against peaceful protesters; free all political prisoners; and allow free and fair elections.
:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
“Belarus has woken up today,” she said in an opening message.
“Hundreds of thousands take to the streets of cities and towns to say step down. Thousands of workers have gone on strike to say enough is enough.
“Enough to lying, intimidating, enough of lawlessness and violence. Violence must stop. Political prisoners must be released. And a new election has to be organised in a free, honest and transparent manner.
“This is what the Belarusian people are demanding. They must be heard.”
The opposition leader urged striking workers to liaise with a new council set up to help prepare for a transition of power and to engage in dialogue with all sides.
“The creation of the coordination council is aimed at negotiating a peaceful handover of power,” she said.
The authorities in Minsk on Thursday opened a criminal probe into the opposition council, saying it was an unconstitutional attempt to topple Mr Lukashenko.
Mrs Tikhanouskaya was asked to comment on the possibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin supporting Mr Lukashenko despite the protests.
“I call on all countries of the world to respect the sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus,” without specifically naming Russia.
Source : Sky News