Olympics-Belarus sprinter leaves Tokyo for Vienna after refusing to go home

by maria
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By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters) -Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya left Tokyo aboard a flight to Vienna on Wednesday, less than 72 hours after refusing her team’s orders to return home.

After spending two nights in Poland’s embassy, the 24-year-old walked onto the plane at Narita airport wearing blue jeans, a blue blouse and sunglasses with “I RUN CLEAN” written on them.

She was initially due to leave on a flight to Warsaw. A Polish government source said she was switched at the last minute to a flight to Vienna, over concerns about her privacy and security after news of the plan became public and reporters booked seats on the flight.

Concern was particularly high because of an incident in May, when a Ryanair flight was forced to land in Belarus and a dissident journalist was arrested, the Polish source said.

The sprinter caused a diplomatic incident on Sunday when she said her coaches had cut her Tokyo Games short, demanding she pack her bags at the Olympic village and taking her to the airport against her wishes because she had publicly criticised them.

She refused to board the flight and sought the protection of Japanese police.

“I will not return to Belarus,” she told Reuters at the time.

After arriving in Vienna, Tsimanouskaya will go to Warsaw, said Poland-based Belarusian opposition politician Pavel Latushko. Poland’s deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz confirmed she was still in the care of the Polish diplomatic services.

A spokesperson for the Narita airport, Kazunori Hashimoto, told journalists earlier that the presence of a Reuters reporter on the Warsaw flight was one of the reasons she had changed her plans. The Polish government source said other journalists were on it as well.

A Reuters spokesperson said the news agency had been in contact with Tsimanouskaya and her representatives and that two of its reporters had boarded the Warsaw flight with the aim of documenting her arrival in Poland.

IOC INVESTIGATES

The International Olympic Committee has started an investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s claims she had been removed from the athlete’s village, and said on Wednesday it had received a report from the Belarusian team.

“The IOC is opening a disciplinary commission to establish the facts in this case and to hear the two officials – Artur Shumak and Yuri Moisevich – who had been allegedly involved in this incident,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

The Belarus National Olympic Committee (NOC) did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Previously, the NOC said coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of intolerable “transnational repression” in the matter.

The incident has focused attention on Belarus, where police have cracked down on dissent following a wave of protests triggered by an election last year which the opposition says was rigged to keep Lukashenko in power.

Belarusian authorities have characterised anti-government protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and described the actions of their own law enforcement agencies as appropriate and necessary.

Vitaly Shishov, a Belarusian activist living in exile in Ukraine, was found hanged in a park near his home in Kyiv early on Tuesday, and Ukrainian police launched a murder investigation. He led an organisation that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Antoni Slodkowski in Tokyo, Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Parniyan Zemaryalai, Akira Tomoshige, Angie Teo and Pak Yiu; Writing by William Mallard and Peter Graff; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Nick Tattersall)

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