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Belarus sprinter defected after family's safety fears

In an exclusive interview with Reuters in Warsaw, she said her family feared she would be sent to a psychiatric ward if she went back to Belarus, and that her grandmother had called her to tell her not to return.

"My grandmother called me and told me, please, do not come back to Belarus, it's not safe for you here. I think it would be safer for you if you seek some sort of political asylum and either stay in Tokyo or travel somewhere in Europe, but not to Belarus," she said.

"I madly love my country, it's my motherland, I was born there. I've never had any desire to leave it."

The 24-year-old athlete caused a furore on Sunday (August 1) when she said coaches angry at her criticism had ordered her to fly home from Tokyo.

After seeking protection from Japanese police, she flew on Wednesday (August 4) to Poland instead of Belarus.

Poland, which has long been critical of Lukashenko's authoritarian rule and harbored many activists from Belarus, has granted Tsimanouskaya and her husband humanitarian visas.

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