Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya celebrated her 38th birthday on Friday in exile in Vilnius, Lithuania, as Belarus geared up for a fifth weekend of mass protests since a disputed presidential election.
The main candidate standing against President Alexander Lukashenko in the Aug. 9 election, Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania after the vote, which her followers say she won.
An English teacher and political novice, she emerged as the consensus opposition candidate after better known figures, including her own jailed activist husband, were barred from standing.
“You and I all understand that I would want to celebrate a birthday in Belarus, with my husband and my children. But our country is going through a rough patch right now,” she told a crowd of few hundred Belarusians living in Lithuania.
A table set up for gifts held chocolate and a teddy bear as well as bouquets of red and white flowers, colours of Belarus’ old flag and now a protest symbol.
Participants were invited to write to letters to Belarusians detained at about 100 locations.
“It was very scary, every day I was waiting for searches or detentions. I was always afraid,” Tskihanouskaya told the crowd of her time in Belarus.