Belarus protests: Last-standing opposition leader detained by masked men; US considers imposing sanctions
Updated: September 9, 2020 7:31:26 pm
Amidst month-long protests against Belarus’ long-standing authoritarian ruler President Alexander Lukashenko, one of the last remaining high-profile opposition leaders in the country was detained Wednesday by a group of masked men in plain clothes, Associated Press reported.
Maxim Znak, a 39-year-old lawyer and member of the opposition’s Coordination Council, was escorted out of his office in Belarus’ capital city of Minsk by unidentified people in ski masks, his associate Gleb German told AP. In a text message sent to a group of activists, Znak allegedly typed out the word ‘masks’, before his phone was taken away by his abductors.
Over the last four weeks, Belarus’ streets have been overrun by demonstrators following the re-election of Lukashenko, in a highly-controversial campaign and disputed election. The coordination council was set up by the opposition to negotiate with the country’s leadership about a possible re-election and transition of power.
Znak’s arrest comes two day after Maria Kolesnikova, another prominent opposition leader, was picked up off a street and forced into a van by masked men in Minsk, BBC reported. Kolesnikova is the last of three women leaders from the opposition to remain inside Belarus.
Also Read: President Lukashenko admits he may have been in power too long, say reports
Ever since the election results were announced, several opposition leaders, including the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, were forced to leave the country and many others were imprisoned.
Here are the latest developments from Belarus
US considering imposing sanctions on Belarus, says Pompeo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States was deeply concerned about the situation unfolding in Belarus — particularly the recent detention of Maria Kolesnikova, Voice of America reported. He added that the US and several other countries were considering imposing sanctions in order to end the political crisis in the country.
“We commend the courage of Ms. Kalesnikava and of the Belarusian people in peacefully asserting their right to pick their leaders in free and fair elections in the face of unjustified violence and repression by the Belarusian authorities, which included brazen beatings of peaceful marchers in broad daylight and hundreds of detentions (on) September 6, as well as increasing reports of abductions,” he said in a statement.
According to Pompeo, potential sanctions would be aimed at promoting “accountability for those involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus.”
‘If Belarus collapses, Russia will be next’, says Lukashenko’
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that if his country collapses due to the ongoing political crisis, Russia may be next. In an interview with Russian journalists, he warned the Vladimir Putin-led country to “stay alert”, Russian news agency TASS reported.
“You better stay alert. Some political events may soon take place in your country, and perhaps for no reason at all. You know what conclusions the Russian leadership and we have made? If Belarus collapses now, Russia will be next,” Lukashenko said.
“If you think that a rich country such as Russia will handle it, you are wrong,” he added. He further said that he had already warned his “senior friend” Vladimir Putin that there is no way to resist a political crisis like this once it breaks out.
Opposition leader tears up passport to avoid expulsion from country
Detained Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova tried to prevent officials from forcibly exiling her to Ukraine by tearing up her passport and throwing it out of the window of a car near the country’s border, BBC reported.
Kolesnikova, who was one of three women who came together to challenge Lukashenko in the recent election, was detained by masked men and forced into a van on Monday.
According to her colleague Anton Rodnenkov, “She was pushed into the back seat (of the car), she yelled that she wasn’t going anywhere.” Rodnenkov said that he and another colleague had also been abducted on Monday, and interrogated with hoods over their heads and their hands tied, BBC reported.
The opposition leaders have agreed to leave the country along with Kolesnikova, however when they reached the border she refused to leave the country.
EU demands release of political prisoners in Belarus, threatens sanctions
The European Union has demanded the release of all those arrested on political grounds in Belarus in recent weeks. The bloc has said that it is planning to impose sanctions on top Belarusian authorities for alleged voter fraud and the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, BBC reported.
In a statement, EU’s head of diplomacy Josep Borrell wrote: “The EU expects the Belarusian authorities to see to the immediate release of all persons detained for political reasons before and after the falsified presidential elections of 9 August.”
“It is clear that the authorities of the State of Belarus continue to intimidate or allow the intimidation of their citizens (…) and that they grossly violate, at the same time, their own national laws and their international obligation,” he added.
Hundreds arrested at mass protests in Minsk
More than 600 people were arrested for participating in ‘unauthorised’ protests in Belarus on Sunday, the country’s Interior Ministry spokesperson told reporters, according to an ANI report. Videos shared from the scene show men in plain clothes beating peaceful protestors with batons on the streets of Minsk.
Defending the actions of security forces, Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Karayev told the official Belta news agency, “They talk about the brutality of the Belarusian police, and I want to say this: there are no more humane, restrained and cool-headed police anywhere in the world.”
In recent days, university students have been the victims of violent crackdowns led by security forces dressed in black with their faces covered in balaclavas. Several were picked up from the street and into unmarked mini vans.
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