Belarusian sprinter ‘safe’ in Japan, granted Polish visa after home country allegedly tried to forcefully remove her from Olympics
The Japanese government confirmed on Monday that Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is safe after she alleged that her country attempted to forcefully remove her from Tokyo.
Hours later, a Polish government official announced that she had been granted a humanitarian visa and was staying at the nation’s embassy in Tokyo. She will leave for Poland in the coming days, where she will be welcome to continue her athletic career under the nation’s flag, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydac.
“She’s in the Polish embassy, safe and in quite good condition,” Przydacz told Reuters. “…The Polish embassy is well-protected in Tokyo.”
Przydac said that the next step would be for Tsimanouskaya to apply for asylum if she chooses to do so. Poland’s ambassador in Tokyo tweeted that he had met with Tsimanouskaya, and that "she is tired, feared but very grateful for our help at this extremely difficult time of her sport career."
Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters earlier that Japan had been working with other organizations “to take appropriate measures" in the matter. The International Olympic Committee announced earlier Monday that Tsimanouskaya had been accompanied by a member of the Tokyo organizing committee after refusing to board a flight at the Tokyo airport.
Tsimanouskaya: Coaches took her to airport against her will
Tsimanouskaya said on Sunday that the Belarusian coaching staff ordered her to pack and took her to the Tokyo airport against her will after she criticized team officials on social media. She refused to board a plane back to Belarus once she arrived at the airport. She was scheduled to run in the 200 meters on Monday and 4×400-meter relay on Thursday.
“I was put under pressure and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” she said on a video.
Belarus’ crackdown on dissent
Belarus has a history of jailing athletes who are critical of president Alexander Lukashenko, whose disputed re-election in 2020 prompted mass protests. Lukashenko is commonly referred to as "Europe’s last dictator." The IOC banned Lukashenko and his son Viktor from the Tokyo Games.
The nation made international headlines in May when it sent a fighter jet to intercept a commercial airliner flying in Belarusian airspace. It forced the landing of the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania on Lukashenko’s direct orders. Dissident journalist Roman Protasevich was removed from the flight before it was allowed to take off again. A passenger said after the flight that Protasevich told her "he was facing the death penalty."
‘Her life would be in danger in Belarus’
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation — an activist group — told AP that Tsimanouskaya reached out to them fearing for her life.
“The campaign was quite serious, and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” BSSF spokesman Alexander Opeikin told AP.
The Belarus Olympic team initially released a statement that it removed Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctor’s advice concerning "her emotional, psychological state." It has not publicly commented since.
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Japan warned on Wednesday that coronavirus infections were surging at an unprecedented pace as new cases hit a record high in Tokyo, overshadowing the Olympics and adding to doubts over the government’s handling of the pandemic.
The Delta variant was leading to a spread of infections "unseen in the past", Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said as he defended a new policy of asking patients with milder symptoms to isolate at home rather than going to hospital.
"The pandemic has entered a new phase … Unless we have enough beds, we can’t bring people to hospital. We’re acting pre-emptively on this front," Tamura told parliament.
But he signalled the chance of rolling back the policy, as the decision to ask some sick people to stay at home has drawn criticism from medical experts as putting lives at risk.
"If things don’t turn out as we expect, we can roll back the policy," Tamura said, adding the policy shift was a move to deal with the unexpectedly fast spread of the new variant.
Japan has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. Tokyo reported a record 4,166 new cases on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday only COVID-19 patients who were seriously ill and those at risk of becoming so would be hospitalised, while others isolate at home, a shift in policy some fear may lead to an increase in deaths.
Officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have agreed to seek a withdraw of the policy, the Jiji news agency reported on Wednesday, joining similar calls made by opposition lawmakers.
The outcry is another setback for Suga, who has seen support plunge over his handling of the pandemic ahead of general elections to be held this year.
Polls have shown many Japanese people opposed to holding the Olympics while the country lagged in efforts to contain the pandemic and vaccinate the population.
Suga and Olympics organisers have said there is no link between the July 23-Aug. 8 Games and the spike in cases.
But top medical adviser Shigeru Omi told parliament hosting the Games may have affected public sentiment and eroded the impact of government requests for people to stay home.
Imposing a nationwide state of emergency could be an option to deal with the pandemic, he said. States of emergency are already in place in several prefectures, as well as Tokyo.
"Political leaders are sending out messages to the public in earnest but probably not as strongly and consistently as hoped," Omi said. "We’re seeing COVID-19 clusters emerge more broadly including at schools and offices," he said.
MIAMI (AP) — An Ohio man was arrested in Florida over the weekend after being accused of groping two female flight attendants and punching a male flight attendant during a flight from Philadelphia to Miami, officials said.
Maxwell Berry, 22, of Norwalk, Ohio, was arrested Saturday at Miami International Airport and charged with three counts of misdemeanor battery, according to a Miami-Dade police report.
Berry had two drinks while on the Frontier Airlines flight and ordered another drink, police said. Berry brushed an empty cup against the backside of a flight attendant, who then told him not to touch her, officials said. At some point, Berry spilled a drink on his shirt, went to the bathroom and came out shirtless, the report said. A flight attendant helped him get another shirt from his carry-on.
Police said that, after walking around for 15 minutes, Berry allegedly grabbed the chests of two female flight attendants. They called a male flight attendant over to watch Berry, who punched the other man in the face, officials said. The flight attendant and nearby passengers restrained Berry in a seat with tape and a seatbelt extender, the report said.
Frontier Airlines released a statement saying that they are working with law enforcement to prosecute the passenger. The flight attendants have been placed on paid leave pending an investigation.
Berry was free on $1,500 bond. Online court records didn’t list an attorney.