UK grants Belarus opposition leader asylum

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iol news pic Andrei Sannikov REUTERS Belarussian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Minsk - Belarussian opposition leader Andrei Sannikov, released from prison this year and warned by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko not to “blabber” if he wants to remain free, has been granted asylum in Great Britain, his wife said on Friday.

Sannikov, 58, ran against Lukashenko in the 2010 presidential poll which Western observers said was fraudulent. The vote handed Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm manager, a fourth term in office.

Sannikov was sentenced to five years in prison last year for taking part in a protest against Lukashenko's re-election.

He told Reuters in an interview after his release that the authorities had tried to push him to commit suicide while he was in jail.

Lukashenko said soon after the release of Sannikov and one of his allies from jail in April: “If they blabber, they will go back there.”

But Sannikov's wife, Irina Khalip, said her husband had been granted political asylum in Britain.

Khalip, a journalist who has herself been given a suspended sentence over the protests and is barred from leaving Belarus, declined to provide any other details.

Sannikov, when contacted by Reuters, said he had been in Britain since August but declined to provide any details.

British authorities made no immediate comment on the case.

Lukashenko has run Belarus since 1994, tolerating little dissent and maintaining a welfare state thanks largely to Russian economic support.

His crackdown on opposition after the 2010 election prompted the European Union to impose travel bans and asset freezes on Lukashenko himself and a number of other Belarussian officials and businessmen. - Reuters

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