Belarusian Opposition Leader Rejects Western Help

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has told VOA that the country’s political crisis is “absolutely an internal affair” as she appeared to reject any idea of imminent Western intervention or help. Speaking Monday from Vilnius, Lithuania, Tsikhanouskaya said, “The Belarusian people have a responsibility for what’s going on. We think that we have to solve this problem by ourselves. “But if it happens that we will need one day the help of other countries, help in organizing this, maybe mediation or negotiation, of course any country that would like to help us with this question is invited,” she added. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, candidate for the presidential elections, reacts during a news conference after the Belarusian presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 10, 2020.Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Belarusian cities in recent weeks to demand the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, who refuses to step down. Lukashenko claimed victory in elections August 9. Opposition parties, along with the United States and the European Union, say the poll was heavily rigged.  Lukashenko has denied rigging the election, yet he has used riot police and special forces personnel in a crackdown on demonstrations. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested, and widespread evidence of abuse and torture has been reported. At least four people were reported to have died during the demonstrations. Tsikhanouskaya was briefly detained and fled to neighboring Lithuania following the election, fearing for her and her family’s safety. She refused to elaborate further on why she left Belarus.  “I had big reasons to make this step. I can’t talk about this now. Maybe some [time] in the future I will talk all about my story but now I can’t comment on it.” VOA Interview: Belarus Opposition Leader Tsikhanouskaya Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya tells VOA, ‘Our plan is absolutely clear. It’s organization of new elections, fair and transparent’ Tsikhanouskaya stood for the presidency after her husband, Sergei Tsikhanousky, a prominent YouTube blogger, was arrested in May and barred from taking part in the election. Several other opposition figures were also arrested, and their wives joined the political opposition movement.  Tsikhanouskaya praised the hundreds of women who have taken part in the protests in recent days, many wearing white and red, the traditional colors that have become emblematic of the political opposition to Lukashenko’s rule. “I’m so proud that women are playing a great role in these demonstrations in this so-called revolution,” Tsikhanouskaya told VOA. “Our women showed that [they] play a great role in everybody’s lives and maybe we inspired them for this move because we had to stand instead of our men. So, as they are standing in front of their men, and beside their men, it’s wonderful and I don’t think the world has ever seen such demonstrations of women [in white].” The 37-year-old former English teacher reiterated her stance that Belarus must hold fresh elections overseen by international observers.  “The only way out of this political crisis is negotiation,” she said.   VOA asked Tsikhanouskaya whether Lukashenko should be allowed to stand in any new elections.  “Mr. Lukashenko is a citizen of our country so physically he can. But whether he has the moral right to participate is a big question,” she said. Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years and shows little sign of any willingness to compromise with the opposition, despite the ongoing protests and mass strikes that have paralyzed parts of the country for the past three weeks. His government has recently canceled the visas of many foreign journalists reporting on the crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin last week said that he had a police reserve force ready to intervene in Belarus if necessary. WATCH: Behind Russia’s Take on Mass Protests in Belarus Behind Russia’s Take on Mass Protests in Belarus Concerns within the Kremlin: The same could happen in RussiaOn Monday, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia placed travel restrictions on Lukashenko and nearly 30 other Belarusian officials. The Baltic countries are targeting officials they accuse of having played a role in vote-rigging and violence against Belarusian voters. Lukashenko responded Monday by threatening to cut off European transit routes through Belarus.  Many outside observers have compared the crisis in Belarus to the revolution in Ukraine in 2014, when Russia invaded the country following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. That revolution was marked by the presence of European Union flags among the anti-government protesters, and opposition calls for U.S. and other Western help. Observers also say the future of the Belarusian opposition movement, and Tsikhanouskaya’s role, remain highly uncertain.  

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