MINSK -- Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya says her country is in "deep political crisis," as the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka "doesn’t listen to its people."
"Belarusians have changed, they have woken up," Tsikhanouskaya said in a live stream on September 5, as she spoke about ongoing anti-government demonstrations across the country to protest the results of the disputed August 9 presidential election.
Tsikhanouskaya said that the people of Belarus wanted changes and they "don't believe in the current government anymore." She said that the protesters had "reached the point of no return" and "it's impossible to force people to back down."
Lukashenka is facing his greatest challenge yet with large protests around the country over the presidential poll where he claimed victory over Tsikhanouskaya with some 80 percent of the vote. Protesters insist that the election was actually won by the opposition candidate.
Responding to questions about her plans if she takes office, Tsikhanouskaya said that she would swiftly "free political prisoners" and "organize a new fair and transparent presidential election." Tsikhanouskaya said that she had no plans to run for the presidency in that election.
Tsikhanouskaya spoke as fresh protests took place in the capital, Minsk, on September 5 with two unsanctioned rallies organized separately by students of the Minsk State Linguistic University and women's groups.
Draped in red-and-white flags that have long been a symbol of opposition to Lukashenka’s rule, students staged demonstrations in several places in Minsk, including the Jakub Kolas Square and in Karl Marx Street in the city center.
Some news agencies reported that up to 30 people were dragged from the streets and pushed into vans by masked security forces. Some of those arrested were reportedly released several hours later.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
In the afternoon, thousands of women began a rally near the Independence Avenue. Some reporters at the scene put the number of the rally participants at around 10,000.
A large group of women were blocked by a police cordon from entering Independence Square, but the women broke through the fence and managed to enter. After a while the crowd dispersed.
Several hundred people rallied in the city of Homel, where police detained at least two protest participants.
Since the election, hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets across the country to protest the results, calling on Lukashenka to step down, release all political prisoners, and hold free and fair elections.
Meanwhile, authorities in Poland confirmed that Tsikhanouskaya will visit Warsaw on September 9 and hold a meeting with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The Belarusian opposition leader is currently in self-exile in Lithuania.
On September 5, Tsikhanouskaya's main representative in Belarus, Volha Kovalkova fled to Poland, saying she had been forced by Belarusian authorities to leave the country. Kovalkova was sentenced to 10 days in jail on August 25.
"Representatives of the militia and the Interior Ministry of Belarus came to me and said that if I did not agree to leave, I would face long arrests," Kovalkova told a news conference in Warsaw.
She said she was made to lie down on the floor of a Belarusian intelligence service car driving her to the border, where she was released. She managed to board a Polish bus after the driver recognized her.
Kovalkova said that "everything that happened these past days and weeks I consider as torture. They threatened me with lengthy detention several times."
Michal Dworczyk, chief of staff to Morawiecki, told the news conference that Kovalkova had reached Warsaw overnight "in dramatic circumstances."
He added that Warsaw would offer support to Belarusian victims of repression and those fearing for their lives and well-being. Dworczyk said that since a disputed election there had been more than 100 requests to stay in Poland.
In a statement on September 1, UN human rights experts said they had received reports of 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of people held in custody since the election.