Nobel laureate Alexievich denounces Belarusian ‘terror’ as another activist arrested
(Reuters) – Nobel-winning author Svetlana Alexievich accused Belarusian authorities of terrorizing their own people on Wednesday as another opposition politician was arrested by masked men in civilian clothes.
Maxim Znak was the latest figure seized in a systematic campaign led by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko to bring together the leaders of a mass protest movement that lasted for a month.
“What is happening is terror against the people,” said Alexievich, who summoned supporters to her home. “We must unite and not give up on our intentions. There is a danger that we lose the country, ”she said.
In solidarity with Alexievich, who won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, diplomats from at least seven European countries joined him in his apartment. Lithuania stated that the purpose of the envoys was in part to protect the author from abuse.
Znak was arrested two days after another opposition leader, Maria Kolesnikova, was dragged off the streets by masked men. Both are prominent leaders of protests demanding Lukashenko’s resignation following an August 9 presidential election that the opposition said was rigged. Lukashenko denies the rigging of votes.
Kolesnikova’s lawyer Lyudmila Kazak said she was being held on charges of an unlawful attempt to take power.
Kazak met Kolesnikova on Wednesday for the first time since her disappearance, saying she had been placed in a cell with six other people in a pre-trial detention center. Kazak will request a forensic examination because Kolesnikova had bruises on her body, she said, according to a statement from Kolesnikova’s team.
Znak’s detention leaves Alexievich as the last member of the opposition Coordination Council still active in Belarus.
The others fled, were coerced abroad or detained as part of a crackdown on Lukashenko’s security forces as he sought to maintain his 26-year grip on power.
The Home Office said 121 more protesters were arrested on Tuesday. New protests erupted in Minsk on Wednesday evening and several people were arrested by masked security forces, local media footage showed.
Lukashenko accuses Western countries of interference by supporting the opposition. Linas Linkevicius, Lithuanian Foreign Minister, told Reuters that diplomats were in Alexievich’s apartment to monitor the situation, and “because it is more difficult to resort to brutal methods when the diplomatic staff is there ”.
“These are visitors from Citizen Alexievich, at his invitation,” he said. “She is a citizen, she has an apartment and there are guests in the apartment.”
A Lithuanian diplomat from the apartment said envoys from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden were present.
NOTHING TO DISCUSS
Russian news agencies quoted Lukashenko as saying there was nothing to discuss with the opposition. He raised the possibility of constitutional reform and a new presidential election – suggestions he has made in the past – but said it was too early to say when that might happen.
The 66-year-old leader retains the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The West has so far been cautious about the prospect of taking strong action that could provoke Russian intervention, but the European Union is in the process of compiling a list of individuals to be targeted with sanctions.
In the latest sign of Moscow’s support for Lukashenko, two banking sources told Reuters that Russia’s prime minister and finance minister told the country’s largest state lenders to ensure liquidity continued to flow. flow to banks in Belarus.
For Russia, Belarus is strategically important as a buffer state against NATO and as a transit country for its oil and gas exports. Russian news agency RIA said Lukashenko would travel to Moscow on Monday for talks.
Znak’s detention on Wednesday was part of a criminal case against the opposition Coordination Council “for inciting actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus,” said his lawyer Dmitry Laevsky.
Opposition leader Kolesnikova was arrested on Monday under similar circumstances. On Tuesday, she thwarted a deportation attempt by tearing up her passport to avoid being forced to cross the Ukrainian border, two of her allies said.
Reporting by Maria Kannedova, Alexander Marrow, Matthias Williams and Andrius Sytas; Written by Mark Trevelyan; Edited by Peter Graff, Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage