State investigators after searching the headquarters of jailed opposition politician Viktor Babariko in Minsk, Belarus, September 9 2020. Picture: VIA REUTERS/TUT.BY
State investigators after searching the headquarters of jailed opposition politician Viktor Babariko in Minsk, Belarus, September 9 2020. Picture: VIA REUTERS/TUT.BY

Minsk/Moscow — The embattled Belarusian opposition lost contact with two more members of its co-ordination council as authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko targets the leaders of the biggest protests of his 26-year rule.

Lawyers Maksim Znak and Ilya Saley were targeted in separate raids on Wednesday, opposition spokesperson Gleb Germanchuk said. Znak managed to tell him that “someone came to visit us” and text the message “masks” before contact was lost, Germanchuk said by phone.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Znak had been “detained, or more correctly, kidnapped”. Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania under pressure just days after the August 9 election that she and her supports say she won, against Lukashenko’s claim of a landslide 80% victory. “Undoubtedly, Lukashenko is afraid of negotiations and thus tries to paralyse the work of the co-ordinating council and intimidate its members,” she said.

A growing number of opposition activists have been detained or forced to leave the country as Lukashenko tries to suppress the month-long protests against his rule following the disputed election. The police have renewed a crackdown against daily rallies in the capital Minsk, where about 100,000 joined a protest on Sunday.

After Znak’s disappearance, Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich is the only remaining member of the opposition’s co-ordinating council presidium still in the country and at liberty as of Wednesday.

Presidium member Maria Kalesnikava is now being held by the authorities in an unknown location after she ripped up her passport and jumped from the window of a vehicle during an attempt to force her, spokesperson Anton Radniankou and executive secretary Ivan Krautsou out of the country. Radniankou and Krautsou are now in Ukraine.

‘Kidnapping our country’

“First, they kidnapped our country, now they are abducting the best of us,” Alexievich said on the website of PEN International’s Belarusians chapter, of which she’s president. “We weren’t preparing a coup. We wanted to prevent a split in our country. We wanted a dialogue to begin in society. Lukashenko says he won’t speak to the street, but the street is hundreds of thousands of people who take to the streets every Sunday and every day.”

Alexievich wrote that unknown people were ringing her doorbell.

Lukashenko has refused to talk to protest leaders, blaming the unrest on Western powers, and sought support from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are due to meet in Moscow in the coming days.

The EU and the US have threatened sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime for the initial police brutality against protesters and the targeting of protest leaders.

“The US, in co-ordination with our partners and allies, is considering additional targeted sanctions to promote accountability for those involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus,” secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Tuesday.

In a separate video address on Wednesday, Tsikhanouskaya appealed to the Russian public to ignore “lies” about the protests in state media that’s intended to set Russians against Belarusians.

“This is in no way a fight against Russia,” she said. “It’s very important not to spoil the relations between our peoples.”

Bloomberg

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