Prominent protest leader Maria Kolesnikova ‘kidnapped’ in Minsk

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Prominent opposition activist Maria Kolesnikova has been missing since Monday morning. Her media team and three other opposition members have also disappeared, the local news medium writes Tut.By.

Lithuania: ‘Stalinist practices’

It is unclear what happened to Kolesnikova, but she may have been kidnapped. A witness named Anastasia saw her being picked off the street by masked men in a van in Minsk, said Tut.By.

“Her phone fell out of her hand and one of the men picked it up and jumped into the van before driving off,” the witness said. Anastasia did not dare to film the incident for fear of being arrested.

Kolesnikova is the main surviving opposition figure within Belarus (what we called Belarus until recently). She is one of three female politicians to compete against President Alexander Lukashenko in the August elections.

Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has since moved to Lithuania for security reasons, while Veronika Tsepkalo has left for Poland with her family.

Three other colleagues from the opposition coordination council have also disappeared since Kolesnikova’s disappearance, namely Ivan Kravtsov, Maxim Bogretsov and her spokesman Anton Rodnenkov. The latter confirmed Kolesnikova’s kidnapping Tut.By, but disappeared from the radar itself some forty minutes later.

Belarusian police say they have not arrested Kolesnikova, the Russian state news agency said Interfax.

Maria Kolesnikova (right) with presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (center) and Veronika Tsepkalo on July 30 in Minsk. (Photo: Pro Shots)

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius compared the alleged event to secret police practices in the Soviet Union’s Stalin era and called for her immediate release.

EU leader Josep Borrell condemns the “arrest and kidnapping” of Kolesnikova and her colleagues as “brutal action” and calls it “unacceptable”.

On Sunday, more than 100,000 people demonstrated against President Lukashenko, who they accuse of electoral fraud. Masked security forces arrested 633 people. Pro-government gangs beat up protesters on the way home.

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