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Belarus activist Vitaly Shishov found dead in Ukraine

The leader of a group that helps people flee persecution in Belarus was found dead in a park near his home in Ukraine early Tuesday, prompting police to launch a murder investigation.

The body of Vitaly Shishov, who led the group Belarusian House, was discovered hanged in a park, police said in a statement, according to The Associated Press. He went for a jog the day before and didn't return, Belarusian House said.

"There is no doubt that this was a planned operation by security operatives to liquidate a Belarusian, dangerous for the regime. We will continue to fight for the truth about Vitaly's death," Belarusian House asserted, according to AP.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who is nicknamed "Europe's last dictator," has been in power for 27 years. His government has led a violent crackdown on dissent after widescale protests erupted following a contested election last year.

There has been an escalation in government pressure on independent Belarusian media and non-profit groups in recent weeks, AP reported, with more than 200 raids conducted in July alone, and dozens of people detained.

Ukraine, along with Lithuania and Poland, has become a favored destination for Belarusians fleeing persecution. Belarusian House says it supports new arrivals in Ukraine with housing, legal advice and finding jobs.

Police said they found Shishov's cell phone and asked anyone who had known him to get in touch about his state of mind and any possible threats to his life.

The discovery of Shishov's body came one day after Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystina Timanovskaya sought asylum at the Polish embassy in Tokyo. She said she had resisted attempts to forcibly remove her from Japan and feared for her safety.

Earlier this year, a Belarusian journalist and his girlfriend were detained when their RyanAir flight was forced to land in Belarus, prompting an international outcry.

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