Protests in Belarus: Maria Kolesnikova “detained by masked men”

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image copyrightReuters

legendThere is no confirmation yet of the detention of Maria Kolesnikova

Unidentified masked men arrested a leading opposition figure in Belarus, local media reported.

Witnesses reportedly saw Maria Kolesnikova boarded a minibus in Minsk and chased away.

She was one of three women who joined forces before the August presidential election to challenge outgoing Alexander Lukashenko.

Mass unrest followed his re-election amid allegations of electoral fraud.

The Interior Ministry said it detained 633 people on Sunday after a fourth consecutive weekend of protests. At least four people have died and hundreds have been injured as authorities try to crush dissent in the country.

EU leaders do not recognize the election results and have agreed to impose sanctions on Belarus.

But Mr Lukashenko – who has been in power since 1994 – criticized Western nations for intervening in his country. On Monday, the Kremlin announced it would travel to Moscow for talks “in the coming days.”

Russia is a close ally of Mr. Lukashenko.

What happened to Maria Kolesnikova?

An eyewitness told Belarusian newspaper Tut.by that she saw masked men grab Ms Kolesnikova’s cell phone and push her into a minibus on Monday morning.

Police in the capital, Minsk, have yet to comment on the information.

Ms Kolesnikova was a member of the Coordination Council set up by the opposition to ensure a transfer of power. Government authorities have launched criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, claiming that “the establishment and activity of the Coordination Council is aimed at seizing state power and harming national security.”

image copyrightGetty Images
legendLast week Ms Kolesnikova announced that she was forming a new political party

She is the last of three women who joined forces against Mr Lukashenko to stay in Belarus. Veronika Tsepkalo and presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left the country shortly after the vote.

“I’m the only one of the three of us still here,” Ms Kolesnikova told BBC Russian in an interview last month. “To understand exactly what’s going on, you really have to be here. “

Describing the protests as “not a struggle for power” but “a struggle for human dignity and self-respect”, she said she was not afraid for herself, but feared further violence. She also said that she and her team decided not to use bodyguards because it would not help.

“I am aware that no number of guards would be of any use if a bus full of riot police stopped us,” she said. “We all know what a police state is capable of. “

Another activist, Olga Kovalkova, announced on Saturday that she had fled to Poland under threats of imprisonment.

What happened on Sunday?

His arrest follows further protests on Sunday – a key day for street protests since the rallies began.

Eyewitnesses told Russia’s Interfax news agency that police began making arrests in Minsk after the unauthorized rally ended and people returned to their homes. Video footage from Sunday shows men in civilian clothes beating peaceful protesters with batons.

media legendProtesters took to the streets of Minsk and demonstrated outside President Lukashenko’s palace

The Interior Ministry confirmed that at least 633 arrests had been made across the republic. He said some 363 people had been sent to detention centers pending court hearings.

Home Affairs Minister Yuri Karayev defended the actions of the security forces.

“They talk about the brutality of the Belarusian police, and I mean this: there is no more humane, restrained and calm police anywhere in the world,” he told the state news agency. Belta.

In recent days, security forces have targeted university students returning from vacation, dragging some of them from university streets and buildings in unmarked vans.

image copyrightEPA
legendSunday marked the fourth consecutive weekend of protests in Belarus

A protester in Minsk, who gave her name Lyudmila, told the BBC earlier that protesters were not deterred by security forces.

“We are certainly not ready to resume the life we ​​have had for many years now,” she said.

“We finally feel like we matter because we’ve been living in apathy for too long, and now we just have that sense of togetherness and we actually think – well, I personally think – changes are happening. already, so it’s definitely not the time to give up. ”

Protests were also reported in other Belarusian towns and villages, including Grodno, Mogilev and Gomel.

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