Belarusian authorities have charged the opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova with “actions aimed at undermining national security,” a charge that carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
The charge, announced by the country’s Investigative Committee, is the latest move in a crackdown on opposition leaders by embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has lost legitimacy among much of the population, but retains the support of law enforcement agencies.
Kolesnikova last week thwarted an attempt by Lukashenko’s security agents to forcibly deport her by tearing up her passport at the border with Ukraine.
She later said in a statement that security officials had told her she would be leaving the country “either alive or in bits.”
She is in police custody.
Kolesnikova, 38, a flutist who has said she does not consider herself a politician, has become one of the highest-profile protest leaders in Belarus over the past month, as Belarusians have rallied against Lukashenko’s continued rule.
She was one of seven people on the board of a coordination council set up to transfer power away from Lukashenko. All except the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich have either been imprisoned or deported.
In a speech to top officials on Wednesday, Lukashenko said that he had no plans to step down.
“We had the vote and got the result,” he said. “It’s time to stop stirring up society.”
He has promised to consider constitutional reform, but opposition politicians say this is likely to be mere window dressing.
Lukashenko on Wednesday said the US was fomenting protests in the country, a claim that was echoed by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin.
He said in a statement that his agency had information that the US had funded the Belarusian opposition and encouraged protests in the country.
At least for now, Lukashenko retains the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to have decided that backing him is a better option than allowing pressure from the street to win out.
Lukashenko on Monday traveled to Putin’s Black Sea residence in Sochi for talks, and came away with expressions of support and a US$1.5 billion loan.
On Wednesday, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu was in Minsk and Lukashenko said during their meeting that he had asked Putin for “several new types of weapons.” The claim was immediately denied by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said the issue had not been raised at the meeting.
German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas warned Putin that unconditional support for Lukashenko was likely to alienate the Belarusians, who have close historical ties to Russia. Geopolitical themes have not been part of the protest movement.
“With its unconditional support for Lukashenko so far and hybrid exertion of influence, Moscow will certainly lose the sympathy of people in Belarus,” Maas said.
LIFE GOES ON: After a strict lockdown that left millions on the brink of starvation, Indians embrace work to avoid starvation and get ready for several major festivals India is on course to top the world in COVID-19 cases, but from Maharashtra’s whirring factories to Kolkata’s thronging markets, people are back at work — and eager to forget the pandemic for festival season. After a strict lockdown in March that left millions on the brink of starvation, the government and people of the world’s second-most populous country decided life must go on. Sonali Dange, for instance, has two young daughters and an elderly mother-in-law to look after. She was hospitalized this year in excruciating pain after catching the novel coronavirus. However, after the lockdown exhausted the family’s savings, the 29-year-old had
A COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishers flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country’s largest daily increase in infections in months, authorities said yesterday. More than 230 fishers were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. The Pacific nation has almost eliminated local transmission of the virus, but regularly records small numbers of new cases in returned travelers. The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25,
From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the COVID-19-fueled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings. As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend. One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator. The “C-Face” mask works by transmitting a wearer’s speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows
JAPAN Deer-edible bags invented The deer that roam Nara no longer face discomfort — or far worse — after local firms developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs. Last year, several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers. Firms collaborated to develop bags that pass safely through the animals’ complex digestive system. The bags are made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran, one of the main ingredients of the shika senbei savory