EU, Germany, Britain pressure Belarus on snatched opposition figure
In this file photo taken on August 06, 2020 Maria Kolesnikova, Viktor Babaryko's campaign chief, with supporters of presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya parade through the streets of Minsk. Unidentified men in black on September 7, 2020 morning grabbed Maria Kolesnikova, a leading Belarusian opposition figure, and pushed her into a minibus, her campaign team reported, citing witnesses.
EU, Germany, Britain pressure Belarus on snatched opposition figure
Tatiana Kalinovskaya ( - September 8, 2020 - 7:56am

MINSK, Belarus — The European Union on Monday led calls for Belarus to immediately release over 600 people arrested for protesting against a controversial election that extended strongman Alexander Lukashenko's 26 years in power.

Germany and Britain meanwhile demanded answers on the whereabouts of senior opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova, who allies say was snatched off the streets in central Minsk along with a spokesman and executive secretary of the Coordination Council.

The Council was set up to ensure a peaceful transfer of power after Lukashenko's main rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya rejected Lukashenko's claim to have won the August 9 presidential election with 80 percent of the vote.

The interior ministry said 633 people were detained on Sunday for illegal mass gatherings, one of the largest wave of arrests since the early days of the demonstrations.

"The EU expects the Belarusian authorities to ensure the immediate release of all detained on political grounds before and after the falsified 9 August presidential elections," its diplomatic head Josep Borrell said.

"The EU will impose sanctions on individuals responsible for violence, repression and falsification of election results," he added.

Voicing concern over the fate of Kolesnikova, Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas demanded "clarity on the whereabouts and the release of all political prisoners in Belarus."

Britain's foreign secretary Dominic Raab added: "Seriously concerned for the welfare of Maria Kolesnikova in #Belarus. Lukashenko’s regime must make her safe return their highest priority. The regime must cease brutalising protestors, release political prisoners and begin dialogue with the opposition."

Canada's foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called "for the release of people detained including opposition members and journalists.

"The most recent arbitrary arrests of leading opposition voices and acts of repression are unacceptable," he said.  

Tikhanovskaya left the country under pressure from the authorities and was granted refuge in EU member Lithuania.

'Don't know where Maria is'

"The more they try to scare us, the more people will take to the streets," Tikhanovskaya said in a statement.

The disputed election has sparked demonstrations that have seen tens of thousands take to the streets of the ex-Soviet country of 9.5 million on Russia's western borders, in an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenko's 26 years in power.

An AFP journalist said the crowd of demonstrators waving the opposition's red-and-white flag on Sunday appeared to be as large or larger than on the previous three Sundays, when more than 100,000 people rallied in the streets of Minsk.

But police also appeared to be stepping up a campaign to quash the demonstrations, deploying troops, water cannon and armoured vehicles.

Local media reported hooded men in civilian clothes with batons chased and beat demonstrators.

Kolesnikova's office said witnesses described her being snatched off the street in the capital Minsk on Monday morning by unidentified men in black who bundled her into a minibus marked "Communications".

"We still don't know where Maria is and what is happening to her," said lawyer Maxim Znak, a member of the Coordination Council, in a video blog on Monday evening.

Trio of women campaigners

The Coordination Council said its press secretary Anton Rodnenkov and executive secretary Ivan Kravtsov had also disappeared, while police said they had no information on detentions.

Belarusian authorities had already detained several members of the Coordination Council and others have left the country under official pressure. One, Olga Kovalkova, said on Saturday she was in Poland after security services threatened her and took her to the border.

Kolesnikova and other members including Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich have faced questioning in a probe over an alleged bid to seize power.

Kolesnikova, 38, is the only one of the trio of women who fronted Tikhanovskaya's campaign to remain in Belarus.

Tikhanovskaya's other campaign partner, Veronika Tsepkalo, is now in Ukraine.

Kolesnikova, a trained flautist and music teacher, entered politics to run the campaign of another opposition politician, ex-banker Viktor Babaryko, who attempted to stand for president against Lukashenko but was jailed and barred from running. 

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 9, 2020 - 7:43am

Anti-government protests seeking to oust him followed a crushing re-election victory for Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in disputed polls. — AFP

September 9, 2020 - 7:43am

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday denounced a bid by protest-hit Belarus to expel opposition leaders and said the United States was considering further sanctions.

Pompeo said the US was "deeply concerned" by the action Monday against Maria Kolesnikova, one of the most prominent opposition figures still in the country, and commended her "courage."

"The United States, in coordination with our partners and allies, is considering additional targeted sanctions to promote accountability for those involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus," he said in a statement — AFP

September 8, 2020 - 4:25pm

One of Belarus's leading opposition figures Maria Kolesnikova has been detained while trying to cross into Ukraine, Belarusian border officials said Tuesday. 

Kolesnikova was detained while attempting to cross overnight with two other members of the opposition's Coordination Council who were able to pass through to Ukraine, Anton Bychkovsky, a spokesman for the State Border Committee, told AFP.

She and the two other council members, press secretary Anton Rodnenkov and executive secretary Ivan Kravtsov, had disappeared on Monday. 

Bychkovsky said Rodnenkov and Kravtsov were able to cross into Ukraine, and the Ukrainian embassy in Minsk confirmed to AFP they were in the country. — AFP

September 7, 2020 - 7:43am

Tens of thousands of Belarusian protesters marched in the capital Minsk on Sunday despite authorities arresting demonstrators and deploying armoured personnel carriers and water cannon.

Protesters from all walks of life,  from students to Catholic priests, came out on to the streets, an AFP correspondent reported from the scene. Many held red-and-white flags and placards while a band beat drums and played other instruments. — AFP

September 1, 2020 - 3:28pm

The UN Security Council is to hold an informal meeting on Friday on the situation in Belarus, this time in public and with the participation of the country's opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, diplomats said.

The videoconference session will focus on human rights in Belarus after the expulsion over the weekend of some foreign media and the refusal to grant accreditation to others, a diplomatic source said.

As with a previous discussion, held behind closed doors on August 18, the new meeting is being organized at the request of Estonia, currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. It will be informal and its format allows members of the Security Council not to take part. — AFP

August 31, 2020 - 9:33am

Germany will summon the Belarus ambassador after Minsk revoked accreditations of foreign media reporters covering the country's anti-government protests, a government source said on Sunday.

"The Belarus ambassador will be summoned to the foreign affairs ministry," the source said. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has already condemned the moves against the foreign media as "unacceptable". — AFP

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