EU, Germany, Britain pressure Belarus on snatched opposition figure
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: October 2, 2020 – 7:53am
Anti-government protests seeking to oust him followed a crushing re-election victory for Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in disputed polls. — AFP
October 2, 2020 – 7:53am
EU chief Charles Michel confirms Friday that Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is himself not among the figures targeted on a new sanctions list.
“No Lukashenko is not on the current list, but of course we will follow the situation, we will follow developments,” the president of the European Council says after meeting EU leaders. — AFP
October 1, 2020 – 7:50am
Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron Wednesday that any attempts to interfere in affairs of a sovereign country were “unacceptable” as the two discussed Belarus, the Kremlin said.
Putin noted Russia’s “principled position” that “any attempts to interfere in internal affairs of a sovereign state and outside pressure on legitimate authorities are unacceptable,” the Kremlin said late Wednesday.
The phone call between the two leaders came after Macron met Belarusian opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Vilnius on Tuesday. — AFP
September 24, 2020 – 7:33am
Belarus police on Wednesday arrested more than 140 people across the country as demonstrators took to the streets to protest strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s secretive presidential inauguration, a rights group said.
The Viasna rights group released the names of more than 140 people it said were arrested in the capital Minsk, the southwestern city of Brest and elsewhere. Police used water cannon and tear gas in Minsk to break up the rallies.
On Wednesday evening, protests broke out in Minsk and a number of other cities as several thousand demonstrators took to the streets to protest Lukashenko’s secretive presidential inauguration earlier in the day. — AFP
September 21, 2020 – 7:58am
More than 100 people were on Sunday arrested in Belarus on the sidelines of opposition demonstrations against the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, according to rights group Viasna.
At least 80 were arrested in the capital Minsk, where tens of thousands held a peaceful march, according to Viasna, which added that at least 47 people were arrested elsewhere in the country, notably in Gomel, Brest and Grodno. — 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