Maria Kolesnikova, a leading member of Belarus’ opposition, was reportedly seized by unidentified men in Minsk on Monday as demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko entered their fifth straight week.
A witness identified as Anastasia told Belarusian website Tut.by Monday that she saw Kolesnikova being forced by men in civilian clothing into a minibus and driven away.
Kolesnikova is the last of three women left inside Belarus who came together in the opposition coordination council to try and defeat Lukashenko in the August 9th poll. He was declared winner in the election but opposition parties, along with the United States and the European Union, say the poll was heavily rigged.
Kolesnikova’s ally Olga Kovalkova went to Poland Saturday, saying authorities forced her out of the country, while Belarus’ main opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been in Lithuania with her children since the election for what she says is her own safety.
In an interview with VOA, Tsikhanouskaya said she is working to organize new elections despite Lukashenko’s refusal to do so.
“Our plan is absolutely clear. It’s organization of new elections, fair and transparent,” she said.
Protests over the weekend once again drew tens of thousands of people, shouting “go away” and “you’re a rat,” members of the crowd waved red and white opposition flags.
Police and army troops cordoned off the center of Minsk, but it did not stop demonstrators from marching to the vicinity of the president’s residence, about three kilometers outside the city center.
Using military vehicles and water cannons, as well as pepper gas, riot police and plain clothes officers wearing masks and wielding truncheons tried to disperse the demonstrators.
More than 200 protesters were detained throughout Belarus Sunday, including more than 100 in the capital, the Minsk-based Viasna Human Rights Center and local media reported.
More than 7,000 protesters have been arrested, and widespread evidence of abuse and torture has been reported in the month of protests. At least four people are reported to have died during the demonstrations.
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.
Voice of America – English