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Belarus activist held after resisting authorities’ attempt to make her leave country

Maria Kolesnikova, one of Belarus' opposition leaders, gestures during a rally in Minsk, on Aug. 30.
(Tut.By)

A leading opposition activist in Belarus was held at 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.

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Anton Bychkovsky, a spokesman for Belarus’ Border Guard Committee, confirmed that Kolesnikova was 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, earning the moniker “Europe’s last dictator” for relentlessly stifling dissent and keeping most of the economy in state hands.

Authorities in Belarus are steadily cranking up the pressure on protesters who are pushing for the resignation of the country’s authoritarian leader.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger to Lukashenko, left for Lithuania a day after the Aug. 9 vote under pressure from authorities.

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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 to lie down on the floor, unaware of their destination. She was dropped off in no-man’s land between the Belarusian and Polish borders, 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 others have been called in for questioning.

Last week, Kolesnikova announced the creation of a new party, Together. She said the move would 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.


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