Under Threat, Belarusian Opposition Candidate Moves Children Out Of Country

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

The Belarusian opposition's main presidential candidate has taken her two children to an EU country out of concern for their safety after receiving threats ahead of next month's election.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has emerged as the embattled opposition's main candidate against strongman President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, after other top contenders in the August 9 election were disqualified amid a widening preelection crackdown on dissent.

Belarusian media reported on July 20 that Tsikhanouskaya had moved her two children to an undisclosed EU country with the help of Natallya Radzina, the editor in chief of Charter97, a news website critical of the authoritarian Belarusian regime. The children, aged 4 and 10, were taken out of the country along with their grandmother.

Tsikhanouskaya previously said she and her family had received threats for participating in the presidential race.

Radzina told the news website Tut.by that the presidential candidate was concerned she could be arrested and that her children could be taken away from her.

Tsikhanouskaya became a presidential candidate because her husband, well-known vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, was incarcerated again after he openly expressed his intention to run for president.

A series of unlikely events have since thrust her to the center of the battle for Belarus's future, even though she says she harbors no personal political ambitions.

Last week, the campaigns of three opposition figures unified around Tsikhanouskaya after two top opposition candidates -- former Belgazprombank head Viktar Babaryka and prominent businessman Valer Tsapkala -- were disqualified from running against Lukashenka.

The opposition's campaign to unseat Lukashenka after 26 years in power is now heating up with less than three weeks before the August 9 vote.

It comes as Lukashenka has harshly responded to mounting public opposition to his rule.

Hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers, have been arrested as the government cracks down on rallies and demonstrations despite calls for restraint from Western governments and international institutions.

After holding two mass rallies over the weekend, Tsikhanouskaya continued on July 20 to outline her plans for the country as campaigning moves into full swing.

In an interview with the First National Channel of Belarusian Radio, Tsikhanouskaya said that it was impossible for Lukashenka to make Belarusian citizens love him "by force."

"Does the incumbent president really expect that by beating people, throwing them to prison cells, fining them, he will force people to love him?" Tsikhanouskaya said.

She also elaborated on the opposition's program of releasing political prisoners, holding new free and fair elections, and organizing a referendum to bring back the 1994 constitution that limited presidential powers.

Tsikhanouskaya also pointed out several problems she will focus as president, including mass emigration, health care, education, reviving villages and small towns, and slowing down the spread of the coronavirus.