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Demonstration in Minsk Demonstration in Minsk  (ANSA)

Belarus opposition leader warns of crackdown against dissidents

An opposition leader says an increasing number of critical activists opposing Belarusian President Alexander Lukanhesko are detained, kidnapped, and sometimes expelled from the country. The statement by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya comes amid dramatic scenes at the borders of the former Soviet republic.

By Stefan J. Bos

Speaking to a Council of Europe committee, opposition leader Tikhanovskaya expressed concern about increased repression by Belarus's security forces. Tikhanovskaya herself has said she was forced to flee to neighbouring Lithuania after receiving threats.

Through a video link, she told the Council of Europe that she is among many people facing hardship for opposing longtime Belarussian leader Lukashenko. "Peaceful protesters are illegally detained, beaten, and imprisoned. Opposition figures are held under trumped-up charges, intimidated, threatened, or expelled from the country altogether," she noted.

Tikhanovskaya added that among those held was her husband. The 37-year-old former English teacher spoke amid reports that a Belarus opposition leader was seen being bundled into a van by masked men. She was later involved in dramatic scenes at the border.

State media said Maria Kolesnikova was detained while trying to cross into Ukraine in Tuesday's early hours. But Ukrainian reports claimed she tore up her passport to prevent expulsion as two colleagues were forced to leave.

Large demonstrations

The tensions came after as many as 100,000 people in the capital Minsk and other cities demanded Lukashenko's resignation and free and fair elections. They do not believe official statements that he won the August 9 presidential ballot with 80 per cent of the vote.

Amid the turmoil, hundreds of protestors have been detained in recent days. More than 7,000 people are estimated to have been taken into custody since a new wave of protests began a month ago.

In one rally, protesters converged on a Catholic church in Minsk in solidarity with archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz who was barred from re-entering Belarus after a working visit to Poland last week. He and other church leaders had expressed concerns about the mistreatment of protesters by security forces and appealed for prayers.

Hundreds of people were injured, and at least four were killed in police clashes in recent weeks. And there has been documented evidence of police torture. In her speech to the Council of Europe, opposition leader Tikhanovskaya urged the international community to isolate President Lukashenko and others responsible for the crackdown.

She warned that any treaty made by what she called Lukashenko's "illegitimate regime" would not be upheld "by a democratically elected Belarus government.”

But for now, the opposition faces an uphill battle as President Lukashenko so far refuses to step down after ruling his nation with an iron fist for 26 years.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

 

08 September 2020, 14:59