News | Politics | Europe | Belarus: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya ‘prepared to act as national leader’ in Belarus
Ms Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania last week under pressure from the security services, said in a YouTube message on Monday she was “prepared to take responsibility and act as a national leader” after western countries said they would not recognise the results of Belarus’s presidential election.
“We all want to get out of this endless circle we found ourselves in 26 years ago,” Ms Tikhanovskaya said.
The 37-year-old former English teacher — who became an unlikely focal point for a groundswell of anger against Mr Lukashenko when she ran as a presidential candidate in place of her jailed husband and two other barred opposition candidates — said she would release the remaining 2,000 people arrested during the protests and hold “real, honest, and transparent elections that will be unconditionally accepted by the international community”.
As many as 200,000 people protested in Minsk, Belarus’s capital, as well as tens of thousands in other cities across the country on Sunday, to demand the ousting of Mr Lukashenko, a former collective farm boss who has ruled Belarus for the past 26 years.
The unprecedented protests have left Mr Lukashenko fighting for his political future after a brutal police crackdown backfired when many of the almost 7,000 people detained said they had been tortured by police in jail.
Ms Tikhanovskaya called on Belarus’s security apparatus to abandon Mr Lukashenko and help smooth the grounds for a transition of power.
“Belarusians are fair and generous people who don’t accept violence,” she said. “If you decide not to obey criminal orders and take the side of the people, they will forgive you, support you, and won’t say a word against you in the future.”
The UK joined the EU on Monday in condemning Belarus’ brutal crackdown after the election and said it would plan sanctions against those responsible.
“The world has watched with horror at the violence used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the peaceful protests that followed this fraudulent presidential election,” foreign minister Dominic Raab said in a statement. “The UK will work with our international partners to sanction those responsible, and hold the Belarusian authorities to account.”
Mr Lukashenko refused all offers of mediation after Belarus’s election commission declared him the winner with 80 per cent of the vote and called on Russian president Vladimir Putin to provide security assistance.
The Kremlin, which recognised Mr Lukashenko’s declaration of victory, said it would uphold its treaty obligations to defend Belarus in the event of a foreign invasion but did not say if it would help Mr Lukashenko quell the protests.
Workers at Belarus’s state-owned enterprises, which form the backbone of its economy and Mr Lukashenko’s political base, continued strikes on Monday despite threats that they would be fired for not returning to work.
They were joined by employees at Belarus’s normally pliant state television company, which broadcast from an empty studio as pop music played while staff demonstrated outside the building.
As striking workers from other factories grouped outside to demand his resignation, Mr Lukashenko visited the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant, whose director admitted last week that he believed Ms Tikhanovskaya had won the election.
Despite only speaking to a select group of workers and arriving by helicopter to avoid the crowds, Mr Lukashenko was still met with loud boos and chants of “Resign!”
He replied: “Are you saying the elections were unfair and you want fair ones? Here's your answer. We had an election. There won't be any other elections until you kill me.”