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Belarusian sprinter leaves Tokyo after refusing to return home

Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who claims her team tried to force her home, has departed to Vienna from Tokyo-Narita airport on Wednesday

Her final destination will likely be Poland, which has granted her a humanitarian visa.

Tsimanouskaya obtained protection from Japanese authorities at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Sunday to avoid returning to Belarus. She said she feared for her safety if she was sent back to the autocratic country.

The 24-year-old was originally due to take a direct Tokyo-Warsaw flight operated by Polish company LOT on Wednesday. But she changed her route at the last minute, boarding an Austrian Airlines plane for Vienna instead, according to AFP reporters on the ground.

Her departure came shortly after 11:00 a.m. local time (02:00 GMT).

She had been confined since Monday at the Polish embassy in Tokyo.

For security reasons, the Polish authorities did not wish to give any prior information about her departure from Tokyo.

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

Tsimanouskaya has been vilified in the country for using social media to criticise Belarusian track officials in Tokyo. She said they entered her in the 4×400 relay team, a distance she does not run, without her consent.

The incident came as Minsk intensified crackdown on dissidents, including those who fled abroad.

In May, Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend were arrested after their airline flight was diverted to Minsk.

On Tuesday, the Belarusian House in Ukraine, an NGO that helps people who have fled repression in Belarus, accused Minsk of a “planned operation” after its director Vitali Shishov was found dead in Kyiv.

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