Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, the leading opposition candidate vying for the Belarusian Presidency, has sent her children away to an undisclosed location abroad in the EU. Tikhanouskaya had to jump into action after she received threats that her children would be taken away if she did not drop out of the race.

Tikhanouskaya launched her campaign to dethrone incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko during the August 9 election, following the arrest of her husband, a well known anti-Lukashenko blogger, was taken into custody in May.

Nataliya Radina, an opposition journalist, said in a video posted on YouTube, "We brought the kids out because they genuinely threatened her. They threatened to arrest her and take away her kids." She said that the children were with their grandmother. However, she provided no further details.

Svetlana Tikhanouskaya
Svetlana Tikhanouskaya(Middle) Youtube Screengrab/Euronews

A Surprise Opposition To Lukashenko

Tikhanouskaya has become Lukashenko's surprise main challenger, earning the endorsement last week of two leading opposition figures who were barred from standing themselves. On Sunday, she held her first official election campaign rally, attended by thousands of people.

A Belarus news portal, tut.by, quoted Tikhanouskaya as saying her 4-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son were in a "safe place". Tikhanouskaya could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 while tolerating scant opposition but faces the biggest challenge in years to his authority amid anger over his dismissal of the COVID-19 pandemic and grievances over the economy and human rights. Tikhanouskaya decided to run after her husband Syarhei Tikhanouski was detained amid a crackdown by Lukashenko's security forces.

Protests Rock Belarus

She was initially hesitant about standing, releasing a video in June in which, fighting back tears, she said she had received an anonymous phone call threatening that her children would be taken away unless she abandoned her campaign.

Protests in support of opposition candidates have flared in towns and cities across the country. Hundreds of people have been detained. Lukashenko has compared the protesters to criminal gangs.

(With inputs from agencies)