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Man dies, opposition candidate urges end to protests in Belarus

Protests turn violent

The top opposition candidate in Belarus' presidential vote, who initially refused to concede her defeat amid a massive police crackdown on anti-government protesters, said Tuesday she has left for Lithuania and called on her supporters to end demonstrations.

Looking haggard and distressed, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a former teacher and political novice, apologized to her supporters in a video statement and said it was her own choice to leave the country.

“It was a very hard decision to make,” she said. “I know that many of you will understand me, many others will condemn me and some will even hate me. But God forbid you ever face the choice that I faced.”

In another video statement released later on Tuesday, she urged her supporters to respect the law and avoid clashes with police.

Her campaign aides said she made the unexpected move under duress. Tsikhanouskaya’s husband has been at a Belarusian jail since his arrest in May.

“It's very difficult to resist pressure when your family and all your inner circle have been taken hostages,” said Maria Kolesnikova, a top figure in Tsikhanouskaya's campaign.

Tsikhanouskaya previously dismissed the official results of Sunday's election showing authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko winning a sixth term by a landslide. Thousands of opposition supporters who also protested the results met with a tough police crackdown in Minsk and several other Belarusian cities for two straight nights.

On Monday, a protester died amid the clashes in Minsk and scores were injured as police used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators. The Interior Ministry said the victim intended to throw an explosive device, but it blew up in his hand and killed him.

The ministry said Tuesday that more than 2,000 people were detained across the country for taking part in unsanctioned protests on Monday evening and overnight. It added that 21 police officers were injured in clashes with protesters, and five of them were hospitalized.

The previous day, the ministry reported more than 3,000 detentions and said 89 people were injured, including 39 law enforcement officers.

In the video statement posted on her Facebook, Tsikhanouskaya thanked her supporters for backing her candidacy, but added that “the people of Belarus have made their choice.”

“Belarusians, I'm urging you to show common sense and respect for the law,” she said, reading a text without raising her eyes from the paper. “I don't want blood and violence. I'm asking you not to confront the police and not take to squares to put your lives in danger. Take care of yourselves and your relatives.”



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