Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has said she had taken a “very difficult decision” to leave the country, after disputing an election she claimed was rigged.
Ms Tikhanovskaya said she did it for her children, and “not one life” was worth what was going on in the country.
She was “safe” now in Lithuania, the country’s foreign minister said.
Poll results gave President Alexander Lukashenko 80% of the vote, but there have been numerous claims of fraud.
Violent clashes between police and protesters over the two nights since the election was held have left at least one person dead, and there have been numerous reports of police brutality.
Mr Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has described opposition supporters as “sheep” controlled from abroad.
What did Ms Tikhanovskaya say?
In an emotional video address to supporters (in Russian) recorded before her departure for Lithuania and posted on YouTube, Ms Tikhanovskaya said she had over-estimated her own strength.
“I thought that this campaign had really steeled me and given me so much strength that I could cope with anything,” she said.
“But I guess I’m still the same weak woman that I was.”
She said her decision to leave was taken “completely independently” and not influenced by anyone around her, even though many people would “condemn” or “hate” her for it.
“No one life is worth what is happening,” she added. “Children are the most important things in our lives.”
Earlier Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted about Ms Tikhanovskaya’s whereabouts after rumours that she had disappeared.
There had been concern for her on Monday but her campaign later said she was “safe”, without saying where.
Mr Linkevicius told Lithuanian radio Ms Tikhanovskaya had been detained for seven hours in Belarus but did not say why or by whom.
An associate of the opposition leader said she had been escorted from the country by the authorities as part of a deal to allow the release of her campaign manager, Maria Moroz, who was arrested before the election on Friday evening. The two women left the country together.
Who is Svetlana Tikhanovskaya?
The election campaign saw the rise of Ms Tikhanovskaya, 37, a former teacher who was a stay-at-home mother until she was thrust into the political spotlight.
After her husband was arrested and blocked from registering for the vote, she stepped in to take his place.
President Lukashenko has dismissed Ms Tikhanovskaya as a “poor little girl”, manipulated by foreign “puppet masters”.
After the vote took place, her campaign said the results, which gave her just 9.9% of the vote, “did not correspond to reality” and vowed to challenge “numerous falsifications”.
Ms Tikhanovskaya told reporters that she had in fact won the election, and called on the authorities to relinquish power peacefully. Protests began as soon as polls closed and continued for a second night on Monday.
However, Mr Lukashenko said he would respond robustly to the protests and not allow the country to be torn apart.
A symbol of change, not a leader
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya went missing after lodging an official complaint about the election result. She was quoted as saying “I’ve made my decision” but nobody could confirm her whereabouts for many hours.
Now the foreign minister of neighbouring Lithuania says she is there – and safe. How that happened is not clear yet.
On Monday, the KGB security service in Belarus claimed it foiled a plot to assassinate the opposition candidate – and make her a “sacrificial lamb”, for protesters. At a news conference in Minsk, she seemed nervous, slightly unsure; the same day she told the BBC she was scared.
The fact Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has fled, though, will not affect the unprecedented mass protests that have rocked Belarus for a second night – crowds clashing with riot police.
They are organised through social media – mainly Telegram – not by her campaign team and the candidate had not joined them in person. She only ran for president after her activist husband was arrested – and for voters, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has always been a symbol of change, a route to that, rather than a leader.
What happened in Monday’s protests?
Riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to disperse thousands of demonstrators rallying in the capital.
Polish-based broadcaster Belsat TV aired footage of the police charging into the crowds.
Reports say some of the demonstrators fought back, throwing petrol bombs. Protesters also tried to build barricades.
Officials say one demonstrator died when an explosive device went off in his hands – the first confirmed fatality since the clashes began.
A number of people were arrested. One journalist was injured, her colleagues and eyewitnesses said.
The BBC’s Abdujalil Abdurasulov in Minsk says protesters were put in police vans, and the sound of beatings could be heard as the officers entered, and the people inside cried for help.
The scale of the protests and the violence used to disperse the crowds is unprecedented, he says, and protesters are struggling to learn the whereabouts of missing friends and relatives.
Protests were also being held in other Belarusian cities.
The internet, which was “significantly disrupted” on election day, continued to be mostly unavailable for a second day, according to online monitor NetBlocks.
What’s the context?
President Lukashenko, 65, was first elected in 1994.
In the last vote in 2015, he was declared winner with 83.5% of the vote. There were no serious challengers and election observers reported problems in the counting and tabulation of votes.
Anger towards Mr Lukashenko’s government this time has been in part fuelled by its response to coronavirus.
The president has downplayed the outbreak, advising citizens to drink vodka and use saunas to fight the disease.
Belarus, which has a population of 9.5 million, has reported nearly 70,000 cases and almost 600 deaths.
India Covid-19: Taj Mahal reopens after longest shutdown
The iconic Taj Mahal has reopened its doors to visitors after six months – the longest it has ever been shut.
It was closed as the country went into a stringent lockdown in March to halt the spread of coronavirus.
It will now allow only 5,000 visitors daily and enforce Covid-19 safety measures as cases spike in India.
The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s leading tourist attractions, and drew as many as 70,000 people every day before the pandemic.
The 17th-Century marble mausoleum was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his queen, Mumtaz Mahal.
It was last shut briefly in 1978 when Agra city, where it is located, flooded. And before that, the monument closed for a few days in 1971, during a war between India and Pakistan.
Selfies allowed, but no ‘group photos’
The entire campus was sanitised before the doors opened at 8am and all officials were seen wearing masks and face shields, local journalist Yogesh Kumar Singh, who was at the monument when it opened, told the BBC.
Authorities said there would be temperature checks at the entrance, and visitors would be asked to use digital payment methods to buy tickets.
They have also been told to follow social distancing on the property.
While visitors can take selfies or solo photographs, group photos are not allowed.
“But there is no rush, it feels so unlike Taj Mahal,” Mr Singh said. “I think many people will not turn up as long as cases continue to spike.”
India has reported more than five million cases so far, and Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj is located, has the country’s fifth-highest caseload.
Mr Kumar said it would be interesting to see how authorities enforce safety rules when large groups start visiting the site.
The Taj is surrounded by gardens where visitors spend a lot of time walking around and posing for photographs. But the mausoleum itself is a closed space, with almost no ventilation, making it vulnerable to Covid-19 transmission.
Typically, it is crowded as tourists move in and out of it in long lines.
A deserted look
Gautam Sharma, who drove from Delhi to visit the Taj Mahal on Monday, said he had been waiting for the day for months.
“I knew not many people will turn up initially, so I thought it will be safe to visit the monument in the first few days of reopening,” he said.
The monument had few visitors waiting at its doors as it opened Monday morning – an unusual sight in its long history.
It is perhaps India’s most famous monument and is usually part of every foreign dignitary’s itinerary.
US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania visited the Taj in February. Other world leaders who have visited the monument include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Thailand protests: Protesters declare ‘victory’ in Bangkok rallies calling for monarchy reform
Thousands gathered in the nation’s capital for this weekend’s rallies, which began on Saturday and were part of a protest movement that has been gaining momentum since July.
Student leader and activist Panasaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, 21, took to a public stage late Saturday to directly address Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn — an act that, under strict national laws, could be punishable by 15 years in jail if her comments are considered defamatory to the monarchy.
Panasaya listed to the crowd the ten demands of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a student union group of which she is the spokesperson. They include revoking laws against defaming the monarchy, a new constitution, abolishing royal offices, ousting the military junta and disbanding the king’s royal guards.
In an interview with CNN, Panasaya said: “I mean no harm to the monarchy.” But she also shared a message to the king: “You should reform it so that the monarchy can continue to exist in Thailand … If you pay attention to what I am saying, I’d like you to consider our demands.”
On Sunday, with thousands still out, a group from the rally announced it intended to deliver the ten demands to the Privy Council, the king’s advisers.
However, Panasaya and other marchers were stopped by police as they attempted to approach the council. In an exchange broadcast live on television, Panasaya instead agreed to hand the demands to police, and declared a victory for protesters.
Speaking to the crowds before they dispersed, protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak said: “Our victory is that we handed our letter directly to the king, so we can show that everyone is equal. Everyone has the same blood color — it’s red. Thank you everyone for celebrating our victory. We told people to raise their hand.”
Parit said the movement would continue to pursue its goals peacefully.
“We achieved all of this by non-violent methods and we will uphold the principle of non-violence in our movement,” Parit said Sunday.
On Sunday protesters also installed a “people’s plaque” near the Thai Royal Palace, commemorating their movement as the “vanguard of democracy.”
“Here, the people declare that this place belongs to the people, not the King,” the plaque reads. Protest leaders said it was a replacement for another plaque that had marked the end of monarchic rule in 1932, but went missing in 2017.
Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Sunday “expressed his gratitude to officers and all the people who have jointly cooperated to end the situation peacefully,” according to a statement from his official spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri.
“Both the protesters and officers have avoided confrontation and instigation which could lead to an unnecessarily tense situation,” the statement read.
“The government has the intention to allow people to lawfully express their rights under the constitution.”
Asked about the submission of a reform letter to the king, Burapachaisri said: “I am aware of their demands about monarchy reform from listening to their speeches on the stage but I don’t have them in detail yet. I would need time to gather info before we have further comments on this.”
Weekend protests escalate
Ahead of this weekend, official figures had tried to dissuade protesters from turning out — and dispel fears that the rallies could turn violent.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister warned protesters they could cause economic destruction if coronavirus spreads at gatherings, though he didn’t name protest groups individually or specifically address the planned weekend rallies.
And in a briefing on Saturday morning, the commander of the Thai Royal Police told people not to believe what he called rumors that police will “suppress the mobs,” and urged officers not to react if “provoked.”
Later that afternoon, protest leaders pushed open the gates of Thammasat University, a heart of student activism in Thailand. They gathered on the campus and at Sanam Luang, a public square near the king’s official residence at the Grand Palace.
Protesters and their supporters are calling for a range of institutional changes; for instance, Pita Limjaroenrat of the opposition Move Forward Party said his group will propose a council meeting to “re-write the constitution peacefully.”
The best solution, Limjaroenrat says, is to elect a “group of persons” to re-write it. He told the media that if change does not occur in the country “the people will keep coming out on the street.”
That is a radical idea in Thailand, where the powerful royal institution is regarded by many with deity-like reverence — but dissatisfaction, especially among Thai youth, has been simmering for years.
Years of growing resistance
Thailand has endured years of political upheaval. A military coup in 2014 was followed by failed promises to restore democracy, and what activists say is a repression of civil rights and freedoms.
It’s within this atmosphere that their ire is now being directed toward King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who assumed the throne in 2016 and was crowned in May 2019.
Vajiralongkorn is believed to spend much of his time overseas and has been largely absent from public life in Thailand as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Crown Property Act, passed in 1936, reorganized the Thai royal family’s assets into separate categorizes for royal assets. The repeal of the act meant that the Crown’s and the King’s personal holdings were placed into a single category to be administered by King Vajiralongkorn.
Although the absolute monarchy was abolished in Thailand in 1932, the monarch still wields significant political influence. Thais are still expected to follow a long tradition of worshiping the royal institution.
Change appears to taking root, however.
CNN cannot independently verify the videos.
Traditionally, Thai citizens are supposed to stand still to pay respects to the anthem — played twice daily in public spaces — and the rule is even stricter in schools.
“The protests in Thailand are historic because this is the first time in Thailand’s history that urban demonstrators have demanded such reforms,” Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special adviser at Naresuan University’s Center of ASEAN Community Studies, told CNN last month.
CNN’s Jaide Garcia and Emma Reynolds contributed to this report.
McConnell locks down key Republican votes for Supreme Court fight
Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, said on Sunday that Trump had already narrowed his list and was “prepared to make a nomination very soon.” Trump is expected to announce a nominee later this week, and has said he will choose a woman.
“It’s certainly possible” a nominee could be confirmed before Election Day, Short told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “But I think that the president’s obligation is to make the nomination. We’ll leave the timetable to Leader McConnell.”
Democrats have mounted an intense pressure campaign amid McConnell’s stated intention to fill the vacancy immediately, noting that Senate Republicans blocked Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia in 2016, Merrick Garland, from being considered. At the time, Republicans said it was too close to an election for a Senate and White House controlled by different parties to process a Supreme Court nomination.
At a press conference, Schumer reiterated that if the Republicans fill the seat and Democrats take back the majority in November “everything is on the table.” The New York Democrat also described the potential selection of Amy Coney Barrett, a frontrunner for the vacancy, as someone who “stands for all the things Ruth Bader Ginsburg was against,” adding “someone of that philosophy does not belong on the court.”
On Sunday afternoon, Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, appealed to the handful of Republican senators who control the fate of the next nomination.
“Please follow your conscience,” Biden said in a speech in Philadelphia. “Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created. Don’t go there. Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience, let the people speak. Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country. We can‘t ignore the cherished system of checks and balances.”
Democratic lawmakers earlier in the day noted that Election Day is only six weeks away and early voting has already begun in several states. Ginsburg’s absence leaves the court with a 5-3 split in favor of conservatives, and the high court is set to take up a case that could determine the fate of Obamacare just one week after the election.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told POLITICO that Republicans essentially created a new rule in 2016 that the Senate should wait to advance a Supreme Court nominee in the final year of a presidential term, and that Democrats are united in holding them to that.
“It doesn’t really matter who it is,” he said of the future nominee. “We are unified in the proposition that we want to hold the Republicans to their word, and we will not entertain a nominee until after Inauguration Day.”
Senate Democrats have limited tools at their disposal as the minority party. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate GOP conference, was adamant that the process would move forward this year.
“The president is going to make a nomination,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” “We will hold hearings, and there will be a vote on the floor of the United States Senate this year.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas went even further, insisting that confirming a nominee before the Nov. 3 election was “the right thing to do.” Cruz cited in 2016 “a long tradition” of not considering Supreme Court nominees in an election year.
At least three Republicans recalled on the Sunday shows that there have been 29 vacancies in a presidential election year, and that presidents named a nominee all 29 times. The big difference, Cruz told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” is that the Senate traditionally confirms that nominee when the Senate majority and president are members of the same party.
“It’s not just simply your party, my party,” he said. “The reason is, it’s a question of checks and balances. In order for a Supreme Court nomination to go forward, you have to have the president and the Senate.”
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said it’s “too soon to say right now” whether Republicans would confirm a nominee before the election, but he insisted the Senate would move forward “without delay,” echoing the president’s language.
“In 2014, the American people elected a Republican majority to the Senate to put the brakes on President Obama’s judicial nominations. In 2018, we had a referendum on this question,” Cotton told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” citing the contentious confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“There could not have been a clearer mandate, because the American people didn’t just reelect Republicans. They expanded our majority,” Cotton said. “They defeated four Democratic senators who voted against Justice Kavanaugh. They reelected the one Democratic senator who did vote for Justice Kavanaugh.”
Democrats who appeared on the Sunday shows were uniformly opposed to the Senate’s advancing Trump’s future nominee, especially given that polling shows Biden currently favored to win the election and Democrats could regain control of the Senate.
But the party appeared to try several different tacks rather than one unified strategy. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said he would personally appeal to his Republican colleagues, who he suggested should respect the 2016 precedent they set. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former President Bill Clinton both recalled that President Abraham Lincoln allowed the election to occur before making a Supreme Court nomination when a vacancy opened this close to Election Day.
And Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the president’s rush to nominate a replacement was evidence that he is more focused on crushing the Affordable Care Act than the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.
Pelosi shut down the possibility of Democrats leveraging government funding to slow down the Senate’s confirmation process but did maintain that Democrats have “arrows in our quiver” to stop the Senate from advancing a nominee. She declined, however, to discuss their options.
“People have something at stake in this decision and how quickly the president wants to go,” Pelosi said on “This Week.” “I don’t think they care about who said what when and all the rest of that, but they do care about their own health and well-being and the financial health and well-being of their families.”
NPR reported on Friday that Ginsburg had dictated to her granddaughter, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Republicans have largely dismissed that desire.
“She’s certainly a giant upon whose shoulders many will stand, and she blazed a trail for many women in the legal profession,” said Short, the vice president‘s chief of staff. “But the decision to nominate does not lie with her.”
Clinton, who nominated Ginsburg to the high court and appeared on three programs Sunday, said it would be worth waiting to see whether people care that several senators, including some up for reelection this fall, are going to go against their positions from 2016.
“It would be very interesting to see whether their position could only be justified as: ‘If my party can do it, now I’m for it. If their party can do it, then I’m against it,” Clinton said on “This Week.” “And if that’s the rule of life in America, then who knows what the consequences will be.”
Marianne LeVine and Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.
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