Belarusian sprinter leaves Tokyo's Polish embassy in van - possibly bound for ...

Belarusian sprinter leaves Tokyo's Polish embassy in van - possibly bound for ...
Belarusian sprinter leaves Tokyo's Polish embassy in van - possibly bound for ...

A Belarusian sprinter early on Wednesday left the Polish embassy in Tokyo, where she had sought protection after refusing her team's orders to return home.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya's refusal to board a flight home, after she said she was taken by her team to the airport against her wishes, caused drama at the Olympics.

A darkened van left the compound with police escort around 7.05am after luggage had been loaded into another van.

A police official confirmed Tsimanouskaya was in the vehicle.

She was expected to go to Poland, her supporters have said. Warsaw has offered her a humanitarian visa.

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The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday it was expecting a report from the Belarusian team on Tsimanouskaya's case.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's regime of intolerable 'transnational repression' in the matter.

A Belarusian sprinter early on Wednesday left the Polish embassy in Tokyo, where she had sought protection after refusing her team's orders to return home

A Belarusian sprinter early on Wednesday left the Polish embassy in Tokyo, where she had sought protection after refusing her team's orders to return home

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya's refusal to board a flight home, after she said she was taken by her team to the airport against her wishes, caused drama at the Olympics

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya's refusal to board a flight home, after she said she was taken by her team to the airport against her wishes, caused drama at the Olympics

A darkened van left the compound with police escort around 7.05am after luggage had been loaded into another van

A darkened van left the compound with police escort around 7.05am after luggage had been loaded into another van

A police official confirmed Tsimanouskaya was in the vehicle. She was expected to go to Poland, her supporters have said. Warsaw has offered her a humanitarian visa

A police official confirmed Tsimanouskaya was in the vehicle. She was expected to go to Poland, her supporters have said. Warsaw has offered her a humanitarian visa

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Staff members holding luggage are seen outside the embassy of Poland where Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya was

Staff members holding luggage are seen outside the embassy of Poland where Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya was

A car beleived to be carrying Belarus athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who claimed her team tried to force her to leave Japan following a row during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, leaves the Polish embassy in Tokyo

A car beleived to be carrying Belarus athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who claimed her team tried to force her to leave Japan following a row during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, leaves the Polish embassy in Tokyo

Police officers watch as the car carrying Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya leaves the embassy

Police officers watch as the car carrying Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya leaves the embassy

The police and journalists are seen outside the embassy of Poland early on Wednesday morning

The police and journalists are seen outside the embassy of Poland early on Wednesday morning

Tsimanouskaya said it was 'made clear' she would be 'punished' on her return to Belarus - before she escaped by handing herself over to Japanese police.

She said she expected to be kicked off the national team and coaches made 'thinly disguised hints that more would await me'.

She also called for sanctions against athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich and for a probe into 'who actually took the decision that I can't compete'.

Tsimanouskaya spoke out even as the body of activist Vitaly Shishov, an opponent of dictator Alexander Lukashenko who helped his countrymen flee Belarus, was found hanged in a park in Kiev with friends claiming he was killed by regime thugs.

Shishov's body was found in a park close to his house on Tuesday, a day after he had gone missing while out for a jog.

Police opened a murder probe and will be investigating the possibility he was killed and his death made to look like a suicide, as friends said there were signs he had been beaten before his death - including a broken nose.

Shishov had reported being followed by 'strangers' on his runs shortly before he vanished, friends added, while Ukrainian security forces had warned them Belarus KGB agents were sneaking into the country disguised as refugees.

The timing of Shishov's death underlines the risks to Tsimanouskaya and her family, with husband Arseni Zhdanevich fleeing Belarus to the Ukrainian capital.

It is not clear whether he made contact with Shishov during his escape.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, the Belarus sprinter who was almost kidnapped from the Tokyo Olympics by her own trainers, spoke from the Polish embassy where she was holed up

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, the Belarus sprinter who was almost kidnapped from the Tokyo Olympics by her own trainers, spoke from the Polish embassy where she was holed up

She hit out even as the body of Vitaly Shishov, an activist opposed to Alexander Lukashenko's regime, was found in Ukraine a day after he went missing

She hit out even as the body of Vitaly Shishov, an activist opposed to Alexander Lukashenko's regime, was found in Ukraine a day after he went missing

Police in Kiev said Shishov's body was found hanged in woods near his home, but that they have opened a murder probe on suspicion that the 'suicide' was staged by his killers

Police in Kiev said Shishov's body was found hanged in woods near his home, but that they have opened a murder probe on suspicion that the 'suicide' was staged by his killers

Police stand guard near where Shishov's body was found as friends say they believe he was killed by Belarusian KGB agents

Police stand guard near where Shishov's body was found as friends say they believe he was killed by Belarusian KGB agents

Viktor Lukashenko: Dictator's son who crushed protests and now leads Olympic committee

The eldest son of Belarus dictator Alexander, 45-year-old Viktor Lukashenko is made in his father's image - both in terms of looks and personality.

Raised to lead the country, he attended the Belarusian State University where he studied international relations before serving in the country's border guards as part of his mandatory military service - the same section of the military his father served in.

He went on to work in the foreign ministry and for Agat, a military technology company, before becoming national security adviser to his father in 2005.

During protests that followed the 2010 election in Belarus, which Lukashenko is widely thought to have rigged, Viktor was involved in repressing dissent.

He was subsequently sanctioned by the EU, which accused him of playing 'a key role in the repressive measures implemented against the democratic opposition and civil society... In particular in the crackdown of the demonstration on 19 December.'

On that occasion, riot police had brutally beaten thousands of protesters and arrested hundreds as they tried to storm the presidential palace in frustration at the election result.

Vladimir Neklyaev, an opposition leader, was beaten unconscious in a separate incident before being carried away to jail wrapped in a carpet.

Viktor was elected as head of Belarus's Olympic Committee - replacing his father - in February this year, prompting sanctions from the global body.

The International Olympic Committee said in March that it refused to recognise the election and would ban both Alexander and Viktor Lukashenko from attending the Tokyo Games for 'failing to protect athletes from political discrimination' following anti-regime protests in which many sportsmen took part.

Dmitry Baskov, who was elected board member of the Belarus committee, was also sanctioned. He is suspected of ordering or participating in the beating of artist Raman Bandarenka, who later died in hospital. 

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Olympic officials have also contacted Tsimanouskaya's mother, who is still in Belarus, to tell her that her daughter has been recruited by foreign spies and must be brought home.

It is thought her father and grandmother also live in the country, though it is unclear if they have also been approached.

Tsimanouskaya added she hopes to continue her sporting career once she arrives in Poland, having hoped to compete at two more Olympics, but for the time being her safety is her priority.

Asked what made her fear she would be in danger at home, Tsimanouskaya said the key phrase was that 'we didn't make the decision for you to go home, it was decided by other people, and we were merely ordered to make it happen'.

She added she was worried about her parents, who remain in Belarus. Her husband, Arseni Zdanevich, left the country and is in Ukraine.

Speaking to German media,   Tsimanouskaya said she never expected the scandal to become as big as it has - insisting that she is not involved in politics and did not intend her criticism of team coaches to be political.

Before his death, Shishov ran Belarusian House - an organisation that helped his fellow countrymen escape Lukashenko's increasingly brutal regime.

The group provided advice on accommodation, jobs and legal issues, according to its website.  

Vyasna human rights organisation said that 'unknown people had been watching him during his jogging.

'Suspicious people also approached him and his girlfriend, trying to talk'.

Friend and colleague Yury Shuchko added that Shishov 'knew he was being hunted' after Ukrainian security forces warned them that Belarusian special agents were sneaking into the country posing as refugees.

I suspect it was done by the KGB or a special service that works for Lukashenko's regime', he said.

'We talked last week - he had a premonition…

'I hope this coward and truly meaningless murder will be thoroughly investigated.

'We will continue our work, we will continue protecting the Belarusians in Ukraine as we did before.'

Separately, a spokesman for Belarusian House said there is 'no doubt' Shishov died in an 'operation' carried out by the Belarus secret police.

Agents acted to 'eliminate a Belarus man who was truly dangerous for the regime,' the spokesman said, adding: 'Vitali was under surveillance.

'The facts were notified to the police.

'We were also repeatedly warned by both local sources and our people in the Republic of Belarus about all kinds of provocations, including kidnapping and liquidation.

'Vitaly treated these warnings stoically and with humour.'

Police have launched an appeal for information from friends on 'possible threats' against him, and well as details on his psychological state. 

Lukashenko's enemies have been found dead by hanging in suspicious circumstances previously.

In 2010, Oleg Byabenin, a Belarusian journalist and founder of Charter'97 human rights group, was found hanged at a country house.

His colleagues disputed the official finding of suicide. Last year activist Nikita Krivtsov, 28, was found hanged in a Minsk park.

Tsimanouskaya became a target of the regime when she uploaded a post to Instagram last week criticising her trainers for entering her into the 4x400m relay without her knowledge and without her training for the event.

She was due to compete in the 200m sprint on Monday, but was barred from taking part in the event.

Tsimanouskaya appealed that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but was turned down.

She was next seen at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Sunday where she handed herself over to police, claiming she was being taken out of the country against her will and that she feared for her safety if she returned home. 

The International Olympic Committee has since launched an investigation into the claims. 

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya arrives at Downing Street on Tuesday to meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya arrives at Downing Street on Tuesday to meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Mr Johnson pledged the UK's support for democratic movements in Belarus as he met with Ms Tsikhanouskaya inside Downing Street

Mr Johnson pledged the UK's support for democratic movements in Belarus as he met with Ms Tsikhanouskaya inside Downing Street 

Lukashenko, known as Europe's last dictator, has cracked down on dissent since claiming victory in elections last year that are widely considered to have been rigged - jailing critics who have reported being beaten and electrocuted by police behind bars. At least 10 people have died as a result, opposition activist say. 

Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled opposition leader who is believed to have beaten Lukashenko in that election, is due to meet UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday to discuss the deteriorating situation in Belarus.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, she said: 'I want the British Government to keep Belarus on the agenda, taking into consideration all the violence that's going on inside the country and... the threat that the regime now is for the international community.'

Mr Johnson later told her that he was 'on her side' and supports efforts to establish democracy in Belarus. 

Lukashenko targets athletes after they led protests against him

Sport is never far from politics in the ex-Soviet country ruled by Lukashenko, the long-serving authoritarian leader who sparked mass protests last year for claiming to have won a sixth presidential term.

Belarusian security forces unleashed a crackdown against the protests, detaining thousands of demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile.

Shortly before the Tokyo Games, Lukashenko warned sports officials and athletes that he expected results in Tokyo.

'Think about it before going,' he said. 'If you come back with nothing, it's better for you not to come back at all.'

Tsimanouskaya was one of more than 2000 Belarusian sports figures who signed an open letter last year calling for new elections and for all political prisoners to be freed following the mass protests.

Some athletes were also briefly detained in the protests, including a kickboxing champion and an Olympic medalist.

In August last year, Tsimanouskaya had called for an end to repression.

'I am against any kind of repression, I am for peace, for honesty, for freedom of speech,' she said in a post on Instagram underneath a photo of her holding the Belarusian flag.

Aside from that post, Tsimanouskaya's Instagram is dominated by posts about her training sessions and nutrition.

Belarus's exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya accused the Lukashenko regime of trying to 'kidnap' Tsimanouskaya.

'Tsimanouskaya is proof that any Belarusian athlete sent to the Olympics can become a hostage if he finds the courage to speak,' she said on messaging app Telegram.

Belarusian state television scorned the runner, with one presenter calling her 'a person that has nothing to do with the Olympic movement'.

The country's sports and political officials have suggested that the incident was pre-planned and could have been orchestrated from outside.

'It is possible that (outside influence) was working with the girl,' said political commentator Alexander Shpakovsky in the official newspaper of Belarus's presidential administration, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, suggesting the country's neighbours were involved.

Born in 1996 in eastern Belarus, Tsimanouskaya competed in the 200m at the world championships in Doha in 2019, but was knocked out in the heats after finishing fourth in her race in a time of 23.22 seconds.

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Meanwhile state-owned media in Belarus unleashed a full-scale character assassination of their athlete on Tuesday - branding her a 'monster', and 'scum' with an 'ego inflated to incredible sizes'.

She was snared by a 'sudden James Bond-like' sting operation from the West, claimed an outlet close to dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

The 24-year-old sprinter was branded a 'crazy woman' and a 'nobody' in an official media hatchet job that stated: 'The swamp chomped, spoiling the pure Olympic

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