'Belarus has woken up': Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses MEPs
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the figurehead of popular protests to unseat Belarus' authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, said Belarusians would "not relent" in the face of state violence as she addressed Members of the European Parliament on Tuesday.
In a speech delivered via video link from exile in Vilnius, Lithuania, the opposition leader urged MEPs at an extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs to continue their support for what she called Belarus' "democratic revolution."
"Belarus has woken up. We are not the opposition anymore. We are the majority now. The peaceful revolution is taking place," she said.
She reiterated the demands of protesters in the Eastern European country for free and fair elections as well as the end of intimidation and violence carried out by state actors, calling on the world to respect the "serenity of Belarus."
"Belarus deserves better. Europe deserves better," she concluded.
Her speech was met with a round of applause by committee members and attending MEPs although there were some who disagreed with her assessment of the situation in Belarus.
Reacting to her comments, Manu Pineda, a Spanish MEP for the United Left party, said: "Mrs Tsikhanouskaya, you know the pressure the EU can bring to bear. We've seen it in Venezuela.
"Are you prepared to ensure sanctions against your people because they didn't vote for you?
"As president, are you looking for a bloodbath, as took place in Ukraine?
"Are you prepared for the people of Belarus to pay with blood, pain and suffering for the fact that they didn't elect you as president? Because this is what this is all about."
"We have to respect the sovereign right of the people of Belarus to decide who is going to govern them," he went on.
Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, rose to prominence earlier this month when she contested the elections against incumbent President Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years.
In the weeks since the elections, she has become a lightning rod for large-scale protests on the streets of Minsk and strikes.
The protests have posed the biggest challenge yet to Lukashenko's iron-fisted rule of the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million.
The official results of the August 9 vote gave Lukashenko 80 per cent of the votes and Tsikhanouskaya only 10 per cent, but the opposition claimed the vote was rigged.
Tsikhanouskaya stressed that the crisis unfolding in Belarus was not a "geopolitical revolution" and was neither geared towards or against either Russia or the EU.
"The revolution in Belarus is not a violent revolution," she said.
"It is the striving of the nation to decide for itself. It is the striving of the people to freely and fairly to elect its leaders and decide its destiny."
Introducing the opposition figure to the meeting, committee chairperson, German MEP David McAllister, said Tsikhanouskaya "deserved the greatest respect for the courage that [she] showed during the election and after it, despite a high personal cost."
In the wake of a violent crackdown of protests by state security forces, the European Union signalled its full support for the Belarusian people and a peaceful transition of power.
President of the EU Council, Charles Michel tweeted: "Belarusians have taken to the streets with mass protests and strikes. From ordinary families to students and factory workers. They deserve the democratic right to choose their leaders & shape their future."