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Dissident Belarusian sprinter arrives in Poland

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By AFP
Tsimanouskaya sought refuge in Europe after accusing team officials of trying to force her to leave the Tokyo Games early.
Tsimanouskaya sought refuge in Europe after accusing team officials of trying to force her to leave the Tokyo Games early.   -   Copyright  Koji Sasahara/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrived in Poland on Wednesday evening after refusing to return home amid safety fears.

The athlete "has safely landed in Warsaw," Polish Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz announced on Twitter at around 20:40 CEST.

"I want to thank all Polish consular & diplomatic staff involved, who flawlessly planned and secured her safe journey. Poland continues to show solidarity and support," he added.

Tsimanouskaya had criticised Belarus sporting authorities on social media during the Tokyo Olympics for placing her in the 4x400 relay team without her approval.

She claimed her team tried to force her to return home to Belarus, where she fears reprisal from the government.

Tsimanouskaya flew on an Austrian Airlines flight which left Tokyo earlier on Wednesday and arrived in the Austrian capital at 3 pm local time. Initially, the 24-year-old had planned to travel by the Polish company LOT, but changed her itinerary last minute.

She was escorted away from the Vienna airport under police protection and boarded another flight later in the day for Warsaw.

Austria had been cited as a possible host country for Tsimanouskaya. Her coach, Philipp Unfried, is from that country.

But, Vienna was hesitant given the fact that it is one of the main economic partners of Belarus, where four of its major companies are located.

However, Austria's foreign affairs ministry said Tsimanouskaya “can count on Vienna’s support if she wished to apply for asylum,” and that the “decision rests on her”.

For its part, the Representatives of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), an organisation supporting athletes who face repression from Alexander Lukashenko regime, said it would welcome Tsimanouskaya upon her arrival in Warsaw, along with other Belarusian pro-democracy activists.