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Belarus hits Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya with terrorism charges

March 29, 2021

Authorities say they have opened an investigation into the exiled opposition figure over allegations she plotted to stage explosions in Minsk and other cities. Her spokeswoman dismissed the claims as "absurd."

Belarus' opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya delivers a speech as she receives the Sakharov Prize,
Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya won the EU's Sakharov Prize for human rights last yearImage: John Thys/Reuters

Belarus said on Monday it had charged Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the country's exiled opposition leader, with terrorism offenses.

Prosecutor General Andrei Shved said a criminal investigation has been opened into Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after August's disputed presidential vote.

Women of Power: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Shved saidthe 38-year-old is accused of attempting to stage explosions and arson attacks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk and other cities several days ago.

Several other unidentified suspects were also charged, authorities said.

How has Tsikhanouskaya responded?

Anna Krasulina, a spokeswoman for Tsikhanouskaya, dismissed the accusations as "absurd."

"We need an immediate response from the international community to the continuing violence," she said, pointing to fresh violence by security forces.

It is the not the first time officials in Belarus have alleged the leading opposition figure has been involved in criminal activity.

Earlier this month, they requested her extradition from Lithuania, only to be met by a stinging rebuke from the country's foreign minister.

Lithuania's top diplomat, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said he would "rather watch hell freeze over" than consider the request.

"Everyone who finds refuge in Lithuania can feel safe that they will not be extradited to regimes," he said.

People, most of them pensioners, hold old Belarusian national flags march during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020
Demonstrators have been taking to the streets for monthsImage: picture-alliance/AP

What has been happening in Belarus?

Belarus has been engulfed by protests ever since official results of the August vote gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office by a landslide.

The opposition says the election was rigged and that Tsikhanouskaya is the true winner.

Belarus: Protesters dance against Lukashenko

The country saw the largest anti-government protests in the former Soviet republic's history.

More than 33,000 people were arrested during the demonstrations, and many of them were beaten by police.

A number of journalists have been jailed and convicted on security charges, while senior opposition figures have also been detained.

DW correspondent Nick Connolly was arrested for the second time in a week on Saturday, before being released after five hours.

Lukashenko, once branded Europe's last dictator, has accused Western powers of fomenting the unrest, although he has provided no evidence for his claim.

He has strongly repressed opposition and independent news media during his 26 years in power.

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko
Lukashenko has been in power for more than a quarter of a centuryImage: Sergei Sheleg/BelTA/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

jf/nm (AP, Reuters) 

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