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VOA Interview: Belarus Opposition Leader Tsikhanouskaya

FILE - A view shows a photo of Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, which was attached to a fence by participants of a protest against presidential election results, outside the embassy of Belarus in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 14, 2020.

In an interview with VOA, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya appears to reject any idea of imminent Western intervention or help, saying, “The Belarusian people have a responsibility for what’s going on. We think that we have to solve this problem by ourselves.”

Belarusians have protested nearly nonstop since the election Aug. 9, in which President Alexander Lukashenko won a disputed sixth term. Protesters claim the election was rigged, an accusation that Lukashenko has denied.

Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania with her children after the election.

Here is a transcript of her recent interview with VOA’s Henry Ridgwell. It has been edited for clarity and length.

VOA: Do you believe that you have defeated Lukashenko and that most people in Belarus voted for you on Aug. 9? The Belarussian authorities claim that Lukashenko has won. What evidence do you have of your leadership?

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: All the people who are on the streets now, and the evidence that Mr. Lukashenko didn’t win, and all the people who came to their polling station for voting.

VOA: How realistic is that, that Lukashenko will sit down at the negotiating table with you?

Tsikhanouskaya: It is realistic because the authorities will not have a way out of this situation. The only way out of this political crisis is negotiations.

VOA: Some say you don't have any plan or strategy. If you do, what is it?

Tsikhanouskaya: Our plan is absolutely clear. It's organization of new elections, fair and transparent.

VOA: Do you think Lukashenko should be allowed to participate in new presidential elections?

Tsikhanouskaya: No. So, as our elections are absolutely free and clear and transparent, so every person is allowed to participate in these elections. And so, Mr. Lukashenko is a citizen of our country, so physically, he can. But if he has a moral right to participate is a big question.

VOA: This weekend, we saw more and more women come out to protest. What's your message to them?

Tsikhanouskaya: I'm so proud that women are playing a great role in these demonstrations, in this so-called revolution. Because our women showed that women play a great role in everyday life. And maybe we inspired them for this movement is because we had to stand instead of our men. So, as they stand in front of their men and beside their men, and it's wonderful. And I don't think that the world had ever seen such a demonstration of women in white.

VOA: Your countrymen are protesting on the streets of Belarus — cities. You’re in Vilnius, Lithuania. Why did you leave the country?

Tsikhanouskaya: I had big reasons to make this step. I can't talk about this now. Maybe somewhere in the future I will talk about all my story, but now, I can’t comment on it.

VOA: Were you pressured or threatened?

Tsikhanouskaya: Sorry, I can't comment.

VOA: If you knew back in May, what you know now, would you have done it again?

Tsikhanouskaya: You know, I have been thinking about this a lot, and of course I had great stress during all this election campaign. And a lot of times, I was ready to step away because I wasn't sure that I had enough strength to continue. But I see now that it's so important for Belarusian people. This year is extremely important for the history of Belarus, that we are, at last, woken up, and we are ready to fight for our rights. So now, I think that, yes, I would do this again.

VOA: Should Russia or any other Western countries be involved in negotiations between you, the coordination council and Lukashenko?

Tsikhanouskaya: “You know, I have to admit that this political crisis that takes place in our country is absolutely an internal affair. And we have — the Belarusian people — have a responsibility for what's going on. And we think that we have to solve this problem by ourselves. But if it happens then we will need one day (the) help of other countries, help in organizing this — maybe in mediation of these negotiations. So of course, any country that would like to help us with this question is invited.”