Belarusian pro-democracy groups have blamed the country's autocratic regime for the death of an opposition activist who was found hanged, as one of the nation's Olympians prepared to fly to Poland after defying an order to return home.
Vitaly Shishov, a founder of the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BHU) which helps people fleeing an onslaught against political opposition in Belarus, was found in a Kiev park a day after vanishing during a run in the Ukrainian capital.
Mr Shishov (26) left Belarus last autumn along with many other critics of its veteran leader, Alexander Lukashenko, who claimed victory in rigged elections and then ordered his security forces to crush huge opposition protests; several people died, hundreds were injured and 35,000 detained during the crackdown.
“Vitaly was being followed. The police were informed of the facts. There were many warnings. Vitaly reacted to these warnings with stoicism and humour,” the BHU said in a statement.
“There is no doubt this was a planned [security service] operation to destroy a Belarusian who was truly dangerous for the regime. We will continue searching for the truth about Vitaly’s death.”
Ukrainian police opened a murder investigation and said they would also examine the possibility of suicide. They also confirmed reports that Mr Shishov was found with marks on his face, but said it was too early to know if he had been beaten.
Belarusian pro-democracy leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled her homeland after claiming to be the rightful winner of last August's presidential elections, met British prime minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday.
“Belarusians cannot be safe even abroad, as long as there are those who try to take revenge on them and hide the truth by getting rid of witnesses,” she wrote on social media.
She said Mr Lukashenko had become an international danger, recalling how his regime forced a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk in May so that an opposition activist on board could be arrested, and how Belarusian sports officials tried to force sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya to fly home from Japan on Sunday after she criticised their management of the national Olympic team.
The athlete refused to board the plane – saying she feared for her safety and could be jailed in Belarus – and she was given refuge in the embassy of Poland. She is expected to fly to Warsaw on Wednesday.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he had spoken to the "courageous" Tsimanouskaya (26) and "assured her that she can count on the support and solidarity of Poland".
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Tuesday it had requested a report on the incident from the Olympic Committee of Belarus. "We want it today," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. "We have decided to launch a formal investigation. We need to establish the full facts. We need to hear everyone involved."
After talks at 10 Downing Street, Ms Tikhanovskaya called for “a non-violent transition of power ... we want this hell finished as soon as possible in our country.”
Mr Johnson said Britain was “very much on your side, we are very much supportive of what you are doing”.