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Fearful of returning home, Belarus Olympic sprinter leaves Tokyo for Austria

Belarusian runner Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrives on Wednesday at Narita International Airport near Tokyo, Japan, to board a flight to Austria. Photo by Jiji Press/EPA-EFE
Belarusian runner Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrives on Wednesday at Narita International Airport near Tokyo, Japan, to board a flight to Austria. Photo by Jiji Press/EPA-EFE

Aug. 4 (UPI) -- Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya left Tokyo on Wednesday for Poland, by way of Austria, after days of trying to secure asylum out of fear that she'd be in danger if she returns to her home country.

Tsimanouskaya, 24, boarded a flight to Vienna from Tokyo's Narita International Airport. Officials said she will ultimately arrive in Poland, where she's been granted a humanitarian visa.

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Wednesday's flight came two days after Tsimanouskaya said Belarusian organizers had pulled her from Olympic competition and tried to force her to return to Belarus against her will. At issue, she said, is criticism she's leveled at Belarusian athletic officials over her treatment at the Summer Games.

With an autocratic regime led by President Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus has been the target of widespread criticism in recent months for cracking down on dissenters. In May, the country diverted a flight to arrest a dissident journalist.

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Tsimanouskaya competed in Tokyo during the women's 100-meter dash and was supposed to be part of the 200-meter race when she was ordered home.

"We know that her training center is in Austria, and her coach is also placed in Austria," Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said when asked why she left for Vienna, according to CNN. "She's waiting for her husband to join her in Warsaw.

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"So probably it will be their decision, whether they want to stay in Poland or continue any other travel to any other European state and she is very much welcome to stay in Poland."

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Tsimanouskaya had also criticized Belarusian athletic officials for entering her in the women's 4x400-meter relay, an event she has no experience in after other members of the team failed doping tests.

The Olympic sprinter's plight isn't the only event this week to draw attention to Lukashenko's regime.

Vitaly Shishov, an activist leader of a Belarus group that helps people leave the country, was found dead in Ukraine on Tuesday. He was found hanged in a park in Kiev.

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Authorities said the case is being investigated as a homicide.

Tokyo Olympics: Moments from athletics

The United States' Allyson Felix sprints around the track in the women's 4x400-meter relay final, where the United States took gold with a time of 3:16.85 while Poland took silver with a time of 3:20.53 and Jamaica taking bronze with a time of 3:21.24. Five-time Olympian Felix, is now the most decorated woman to ever compete in track at the Games with 11 total medals. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo

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