Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney (file photo) Leon Farrell/

Coveney labels violence against Belarus protesters 'unacceptable' as opposition leader flees to Lithuania

One demonstrator was killed last night during protests against election results in the country.

THE MINISTER FOR Foreign Affairs has said he is “deeply concerned” at the violence carried out against protesters in Belarus in recent days.

In a statement this evening, Simon Coveney said the Government is closely monitoring developments in the country amid demonstrations over the results of Sunday’s election there.

Thousands of opposition protesters have been met with a tough police crackdown after authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in office by a landslide.

Today it emerged that the top opposition candidate in the presidential election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has left the country for Lithuania.

Although she initially refused to concede defeat, she has called called on her supporters to end their demonstrations.

On Monday, a protester died during the clashes in Minsk and scores were injured as police used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators.

Belarus’ Interior Ministry said the victim intended to throw an explosive device, but it blew up in his hand and killed him.

The ministry said more than 2,000 people were detained across the country for taking part in unsanctioned protests on Monday evening and overnight.

The escalating situation has prompted a reaction from Coveney this evening, with the Foreign Affairs Minister condemning the crackdown on protesters.

“I am deeply concerned by this disproportionate and unacceptable level of violence against peaceful protesters along with the arbitrary restrictions placed on mass media,” he said.

“I am conscious too of the long-standing people-to-people connections between Ireland and Belarus and that the escalation of events in Belarus is of deep concern to people here.”

Coveney pledged his support for a statement by EU High Representaive Josep Borrell which called on authorities in Belarus to respect the fundamental right of peaceful assembly and for Belarus to immediately release all those civilians unjustly detained.

“The people of Belarus deserve to have their democratic principles and freedoms respected, and for elections to be free and fair with due regard for human rights,” Coveney continued.

“We will continue to monitor developments closely and will coordinate our response in collaboration with our colleagues in the EU.”

2.54941898 Tsikhanouskaya initially dismissed the election results AP / Sergei Grits/PA images AP / Sergei Grits/PA images / Sergei Grits/PA images

‘A very hard decision’

Earlier today, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya – a former teacher and political novice – issued a video statement confirmed that she had left the country by her own choice.

She said: “It was a very hard decision to make. 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 a later video statement, 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.

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

The 37-year-old former English teacher entered the race after her husband, an opposition blogger who had hoped to run for president, was arrested in May.

She has managed to unite fractured opposition groups and draw tens of thousands to her campaign rallies – the largest opposition demonstrations in Belarus since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the video statement posted on her Facebook page, she 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.”

With reporting from Press Association.

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