A Belarus opposition leader was arrested at the Ukrainian border early this morning a day after she was allegedly kidnapped on the streets of Minsk.
Border guards said Maria Kolesnikova had arrived at the crossing in the early hours of Tuesday, with state television announcing that Kolesnikova had been detained while two others entered Ukraine.
Friends of the 38-year-old say she was snatched by masked men who bundled her into a van on Monday and drove her away, leaving her allies unable to contact her.
Kolesnikova is part of a female triumvirate challenging the rule of ‘Europe’s last dictator’ Alexander Lukashenko, but was the only one who remained in Belarus after last month’s disputed election led to a crackdown in the ex-Soviet country.
Maria Kolesnikova (pictured) was arrested at the Ukrainian border this morning, state television said a day after she was allegedly kidnapped in Minsk
Britain and Germany were last night demanding answers on Kolesnikova’s whereabouts after she and two others went missing.
‘Lukashenko’s regime must make her safe return their highest priority,’ said UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab.
His German counterpart Heiko Maas demanded ‘clarity on the whereabouts and the release of all political prisoners in Belarus’.
Kolesnikova’s friends say she was snatched along with a spokesman and executive secretary of the Coordination Council, which is aiming to secure a peaceful transfer of power.
‘We still don’t know where Maria is and what is happening to her,’ said lawyer Maxim Znak, a member of the Coordination Council, in a video blog on Monday evening.
Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya rejected Lukashenko’s claim to have won the August 9 election with 80 per cent of the vote, extending his 26-year rule.
Tikhanovskaya, Kolesnikova and a third woman Veronika Tsepkalo, fronted the campaign against Lukashenko which drew enthusiastic support at rallies.
But the aftermath of the election has degenerated into protests and a crackdown by police which saw 633 people detained on Sunday.
Kolesnikova (right) backed Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (left) who rejected Lukashenko’s claim to have won the August 9 election
The disputed election has led to mass protests in Minsk, pictured here on Sunday with people waving opposition flags
The European Union on Monday led calls for Belarus to immediately release the hundreds of protesters.
‘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.
‘The EU will impose sanctions on individuals responsible for violence, repression and falsification of election results,’ he added.
Canada’s foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called ‘for the release of people detained including opposition members and journalists.
‘The most recent arbitrary arrests of leading opposition voices and acts of repression are unacceptable,’ he said.
Tikhanovskaya left the country under pressure from the authorities and was granted refuge by EU member Lithuania.
‘The more they try to scare us, the more people will take to the streets,’ Tikhanovskaya said in a statement.
Lukashenko (pictured in Minsk last week) is facing the biggest challenge to his rule since taking power in the ex-Soviet republic in 1994
Police on Sunday appeared to be stepping up a campaign to quash the demonstrations, deploying troops, water cannon and armoured vehicles.
Local media reported hooded men in civilian clothes with batons chased and beat demonstrators.
Belarusian authorities had already detained several members of the Coordination Council and others have left the country under official pressure.
One, Olga Kovalkova, said on Saturday she was in Poland after security services threatened her and took her to the border.
Kolesnikova and other members including Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich have faced questioning in a probe over an alleged bid to seize power.
Kolesnikova, a trained flautist and music teacher, entered politics to run the campaign of another opposition politician, ex-banker Viktor Babaryko, who attempted to stand for president against Lukashenko but was jailed and barred from running.