Belarus issues extradition request to Lithuania for exiled opposition figurehead Tikhanovskaya over alleged ‘crimes against state’

Lithuania has rejected a formal request from neighboring Belarus, which demanded it enforce an arrest warrant against Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a prominent opposition figure and protest leader now living in the Baltic state.

Officials in Minsk lodged the paperwork on Friday. In a post on its Telegram channel, the Prosecutor General’s office said it had asked its Lithuanian counterparts “to extradite Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to face prosecution for crimes against the order of government, public safety and the state.”

Four of Tikhanovskaya’s allies are also subject to criminal prosecutions. “According to the materials of the case,” officials said, “the defendants, acting as part of a conspiracy with Tikhanovskaya, planned to organize riots in Gomel, seize the buildings of local government bodies, and appoint their own heads of administrations and chairmen of executive committees.”

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Vilnius, however, rejected the request almost instantly. Later on Friday, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis was quoted as saying the country “would rather watch hell freeze over than consider [these] demands.” According to him, “Lithuania has been and will be a wall behind which all the democratic forces that are persecuted by regimes can seek refuge.”

Last year, a row between the two countries broke out after the parliament in Vilnius adopted a resolution recognizing Tikhanovskaya as the “elected leader” of the Belarusian people, and declaring incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko as “illegitimate.” Lawmakers in Minsk reacted furiously, arguing that “such actions are provocative and unacceptable, and violate the norms of international law.”

Belarus has faced months of mass protests that have seen tens of thousands take to the streets to demand fresh elections after Lukashenko declared victory in a presidential poll last summer.

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Tikhanovskaya, whose rallies attracted sizable crowds, insists she was the real winner of the vote, which the opposition and many international observers say was rigged.

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