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Belarus sprinter reaches Poland, is granted visa


Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya’s grandmother advised her not to return home after seeing negative reports about her on Belarusian TV. In a string of dramatic events, the sprinter refused to board a plane back to Belarus when her team officials hustled her to the airport. The Associated Press has the story:

Before heading to Poland, Tsimanouskaya flew from Tokyo via Vienna, a move that Polish officials said was for security reasons

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Belarusian Olympic sprinter who feared reprisals at home after criticizing her coaches at the Tokyo Games said Thursday that her grandmother advised her not to return to Belarus.

In this image taken on Wednesday Aug. 4, 2021 and provided by the National Anti-crisis Management, Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, right, who seeks foreign refuge from Minsk authorities, poses for a photo with top Belarusian dissident in Poland, Pavel Latushko, left, shortly after her arrival at the Frederic Chopin Airport in Warsaw, Poland. Fearing for her safety at home after criticizing her coaches on social media, Tsimanouskaya flew from Tokyo to Warsaw with a stopover in Vienna. Poland has offered her and her husband humanitarian visas. (National Anti-crisis Management via AP)

Following a dramatic standoff, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya left the Games and arrived in Poland on Wednesday, days after she accused team officials of trying to force her to fly back to Belarus, where an authoritarian government has relentlessly pursued its critics.

In footage posted on Facebook, the runner could be seen smiling as she spoke to a Polish official in a VIP section of the airport and also hugging a Belarus opposition leader. Many of the country’s activists have fled to Poland to avoid a brutal crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.

Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya waves as she leaves Narita International Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Tsimanouskaya, who plans to seek refuge in Europe, boarded a plane that left the gate for Vienna on Wednesday morning, though it was not immediately clear if that would be her final destination. (Kyodo News via AP)

The runner told reporters that her grandmother told her there were negative reports about her on TV in Belarus after her dispute with team officials became public.

In rapid-fire series of events that brought international drama to the Tokyo Games, Tsimanouskaya said Belarus team officials hustled her to the airport and tried to send her home early after she criticized how her team was being managed. She refused to board the plane, and European countries that are critical of Lukashenko’s rule offered assistance. The Polish government eventually granted the athlete a humanitarian visa.

On Wednesday, Tsimanouskaya flew from Tokyo via Vienna, a circuitous route that Polish officials indicated was for security reasons.

It’s not clear what’s next for the 24-year-old runner — either in her sporting life or her personal one.

She has urged the International Olympic Committee to look into the dispute and said she hopes to continue her running career. But she added that her priority would be her own safety. She was expected to appear at a news conference in Warsaw later Thursday.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, of Belarus, runs in the women’s 100-meter run at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 30, 2021. Tsimanouskaya alleged her Olympic team tried to remove her from Japan in a dispute that led to a standoff Sunday, Aug. 1, at Tokyo’s main airport. An activist group supporting Tsimanouskaya said she believed her life was in danger in Belarus and would seek asylum with the Austrian embassy in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

The standoff has drawn more attention to Belarus’ uncompromising authoritarian government. When the country was rocked by months of protests following an election that handed Lukashenko a sixth term but that the opposition and the West saw as rigged, authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown. Some 35,000 people were arrested and thousands of demonstrators beaten. The government has also targeted independent media and opposition figures.

In a sign of the lengths authorities are willing to go to silence their critics, Belarus officials diverted a passenger jet to the capital of Minsk in May and arrested a dissident journalist who was on board.

While Tsimanouskaya’s criticism was aimed at team officials — she complained that she was scheduled to participate in an event she had never competed in — her defiance may have not sit well with political authorities. Lukashenko, who led the Belarus National Olympic Committee for almost a quarter-century before handing over the job to his son in February, has a keen interest in sports, seeing it as a key element of national prestige.

Tsimanouskaya’s husband, Arseni Zdanevich, fled Belarus this week shortly after his wife said she would not be returning. Poland has also granted him a visa, and he is expected to join her.

Source: AP

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