In this Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020 file photo, Maria Kolesnikova, one of Belarus’ opposition leaders, gestures during a rally in Minsk, Belarus. Maria Kolesnikova, a leading opposition activist and several other members of an opposition council in Belarus went missing Monday Sept. 7, 2020, and their colleagues feared they were detained as part of the authorities’ efforts to squelch nearly a month of protests against the re-election of the country’s authoritarian leader. (Tut.By via AP, File)
A leading opposition activist in Belarus was held on the border Tuesday after she resisted an attempt by authorities’ to force her to leave the country, part of government efforts to end a month of protests against the reelection of the country’s authoritarian leader.
Maria Kolesnikova, a member of the Coordination Council created by the opposition to facilitate talks with longtime leader President Alexander Lukashenko on a transition of power, was detained Monday in the capital, Minsk, along with two other council members.
Early Tuesday, they were driven to the Ukrainian border, where authorities told them to cross into Ukraine. Kolesnikova refused, and remained on the Belarusian side of the border in the custody of Belarusian authorities. Two other council members, Ivan Kravtsov and Anton Rodnenkov, crossed into Ukraine. Anton Bychkovsky, spokesman for Belarus’ Border Guard Committee, confirmed that Kolesnikova is in the custody of Belarusian authorities.
Belarus has applied similar tactics with other opposition figures, seeking to end a month of demonstrations against the reelection of Lukashenko in a vote that protesters see as rigged. The 66-year-old Lukashenko has ruled the country for 26 years, relentlessly stifling dissent and keeping most of the economy in state hands.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger to Lukashenko, left for Lithuania a day after the Aug. 9 vote, under pressure from authorities. On Saturday, a top associate of Tsikhanouskaya, Olga Kovalkova, moved to Poland after the authorities threatened to keep her in jail for a long time if she refused to leave the country.
Kovalkova said agents of the Belarusian State Security Committee put her into a car, where she was told lie on the floor, unaware where they were taking her. She was dropped off in no-man’s land between the Belarus and Poland border, and Polish border guards asked a bus driver driving into Poland to take her on board.
The efforts to make opposition activists leave the country comes amid a criminal probe against members of the Coordination Council. Belarusian prosecutors have accused them of undermining the country’s security by calling for talks on a transition of power. Several council members were arrested and some others called for questioning.
Last week, Kolesnikova announced the creation of a new party, Together. She said the move will help overcome the current crisis, but the party founders’ call for constitutional changes has stunned some other opposition council members, who argued that it could divert attention from the main goal of getting Lukashenko to step down.
Source: Associated Press