MINSK, July 20 (Reuters) - The leading opposition presidential candidate in Belarus has sent her children abroad to an undisclosed location in the EU after receiving threats they would be taken away unless she quits the race, an opposition journalist said.
Svetlana Tikhanouskaya launched her bid to unseat President Alexander Lukashenko in the Aug. 9 election after her husband, a popular anti-Lukashenko blogger, was arrested in May.
She has since become Lukashenko’s surprise main challenger, earning the endorsement last week of two leading opposition figures who were barred from standing themselves. On Sunday, she held her first official election campaign rally, attended by thousands of people.
“We brought the kids out because they genuinely threatened her. They threatened to arrest her and take away her kids,” opposition journalist Nataliya Radina said in a video posted on YouTube.
Radina said the children were abroad with their grandmother. She gave no further details of how the children had left the country or where they had gone.
A Belarus news portal, tut.by, quoted Tikhanouskaya as saying her 4-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son were in a “safe place”. Tikhanouskaya could not be immediately reached for further comment.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 while tolerating scant opposition, but faces the biggest challenge in years to his authority amid anger over his dismissal of the COVID-19 pandemic and grievances over the economy and human rights.
Tikhanouskaya decided to run after her husband Syarhei Tikhanouski was detained amid a crackdown by Lukashenko’s security forces.
She was initially hesitant about standing, releasing a video in June in which, fighting back tears, she said she had received an anonymous phone call threatening that her children would be taken away unless she abandoned her campaign.
Protests in support of opposition candidates have flared in towns and cities across the country. Hundreds of people have been detained. Lukashenko has compared the protesters to criminal gangs. (Editing by Matthias Williams and Peter Graff)