Belarus Border Officials Say Opposition Figure Detained Trying to Enter Ukraine

Belarus border officials say Maria Kolesnikova, a leading member of Belarus’ opposition, was detained early Tuesday while trying to cross into neighboring Ukraine. The officials said Kolesnikova was traveling with two other opposition movement members, Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov, who both successfully entered Ukraine. The circumstances of how the group ended up at the border was not immediately clear. Deputy Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko wrote on Facebook that what happened Tuesday was not a voluntary departure, but rather what he called a forced expulsion.Monday brought calls from Germany and Britain demanding Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko disclose Kolesnikova’s location after reports she was seized by unidentified men in Minsk. Kolesnikova was the last of three women left inside Belarus who came together in the opposition coordination council to try to defeat Lukashenko in an August 9 election. He was declared winner, but opposition parties, along with the United States and the European Union, say the poll was rigged.Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, then presidential candidate (C), Veronika Tsepkalo, wife of opposition figure Valery Tsepkalo (L), and Maria Kolesnikova, campaign representative of another opposition candidate, gesture in Minsk, Belarus, July 30, 2020.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.     German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that the European Union is “working flat out on a sanctions package. If #Lukashenko does not change course, we will respond.”     The EU is considering sanctions on 31 senior Belarus officials, Reuters reported Monday, citing three EU diplomats.     “The EU expects the Belarusian authorities to ensure the immediate release of all detained on political grounds before and after the falsified 9 August presidential elections,” its diplomatic head, Josep Borrell, said.    Further, the EU called Monday on Belarus to release the more than 600 people it said it arrested over the weekend for protesting what thousands of Belarusians believe was a rigged election.  “The EU will impose sanctions on individuals responsible for violence, repression and falsification of election results,” Borrell added.A man waves a flag during an opposition demonstration to protest against presidential election results at the Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus August 24, 2020.The demonstrations against Lukashenko entered their fifth straight week Sunday, again drawing tens of thousands of people into the streets, shouting slogans and waving red and white opposition flags.   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.    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.      Lukashenko has been in power since 1994. 

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