Belarus opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova was today bundled into a minibus by masked men in Minsk.
Unidentified men seized the 38-year-old at around 10am and sped off in a vehicle marked ‘Communications,’ witnesses said. Her campaign team said her phone has been turned off and there was no comment from Minsk police.
Kolesnikova is the only member of the three women who have joined forces to fight against President Alexander Lukashenko’s dubious August 9 election to have remained in the country.
It comes as Lukashenko prepares to fly to Moscow for talks ‘in the coming days,’ the Kremlin said on Monday.
Maria Kolesnikova, a coordinator of Viktor Babaryko’s campaign headquarters, makes a heart sign with her hands outside the headquarters of Belarus’ Central Electoral Commission in Minsk on July 14
President Alexander Lukashenko holding an automatic rifle and wearing body armour as he arrives on August 23 at his residence in Minsk amid protests
An opposition supporter holds a former Belarusian flag in front of riot police officers blocking Independence Avenue during the March of Unity on Sunday
Belarusian police officers detain an opposition supporter during yesterday’s protest
The old Soviet overlords are able to offer counsel on stamping out rebellion and themselves stand accused by the EU of poisoning thorny opposition leader Alexei Navalny last month.
Belarusian authorities yesterday cracked down heavily on protesters, bundling them into vans and beating them with batons, as 100,000 defied Lukashenko with another rally in the capital.
Police and army troops blocked off the centre of Minsk but demonstrators marched to the outskirts of the Palace of Independence, the president’s working residence, two miles away from the city centre.
The palace grounds were blocked off by riot police armed with shields and water cannons.
Kolesnikova said: ‘This sea of people cannot be stopped by military equipment, water cannons, propaganda and arrests.
‘Most Belarusians want a peaceful change of power and we will not get tired of demanding this.’
Several members of the Coordination Council which is calling for a peaceful transfer of power have already been jailed and others questioned including Kolesnikova in a probe into an alleged attempt to seize power.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched during an opposition rally calling for the President to resign
Protesters marched towards Mr Lukashenko’s residence which is three kilometres outside Minsk
The palace grounds were blocked off by riot police armed with shields and water cannons
A protestor wears a mask with the colours of the national flag at the rally to reject the election results
A protester stands in front of barbed wire wearing a poncho to keep dry from the rain during the demonstration
Demonstrators stand in front of the police blockade waving an old Belarusian national flag and a LGBT rainbow flag
One of them, Olga Kovalova, was expelled from the country over the weekend, driven to Poland by police.
Kolesnikova is the only one of the trio of women who fronted Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya’s campaign to remain in Belarus, as the growing opposition movement holds huge demonstrations despite an intimidating show of force from Lukashenko, who insists on his legitimacy and has called on Russia for help.
Tikhanovskaya has taken shelter in neighbouring Lithuania and her other campaign partner, Veronika Tsepkalo, is now in Ukraine.
Kolesnikova, a trained flautist and music teacher, got into politics through running 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.
When Tikhanovskaya, an English teacher and translator with no political experience was unexpectedly allowed to run for president, Kolesnikova and Tsepkalo backed her and spoke with her at rallies.
Police cracked down on demonstrators in the first days of the protests, arresting some 7,000 people
Demonstrators place flowers in barbed wire as they protested against the presidential vote they say was rigged
The protests, unprecedented in Belarus for their size and duration, began after the August 9 presidential vote
The army and security forces have blockaded Minsk city centre as protesters marched to the presidential residence
More than 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Minsk, Belarus, to demand the President quit over ‘rigged’ election victory
The women came up with signature gestures: for Tikhanovskaya a raised fist, for Kolesnikova a heart formed with her fingers and for Tsepkalo a victory sign.
Kolesnikova and other members of Babaryko’s campaign team last month announced the creation of a new opposition party called Together.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius likened what had happened to Kolesnikova to something that the Stalin-era secret police in the Soviet Union would have done.
‘Instead of talking to the people of Belarus, the outgoing leadership is trying cynically (to) eliminate (them) one by one,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘The kidnapping…is a disgrace. Stalinist NKVD methods are being applied in 21st century Europe. She must be released immediately’.