Maria Kolesnikova kidnapped by some Unidentified masked men, she is the main Belarusian opposition figure, from the street in the center of the capital Minsk on Monday and took her away in a minivan, witnesses told local media.
Kolesnikova was one of the campaign partners of opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claimed victory over longtime president Alexander Lukashenko in the disputed elections on 9 August.
Kolesnikova was reportedly arrested shortly after 10:00 local time as she walked near the Minsk National Art Museum. Three other members of the opposition coordination council also disappeared, in what appears to be a selective attempt by the authorities to crack down on the protest movement.
Kolesnikova is still the most important political figure in Belarus.
Lukashenko’s victory, in a widely considered rigged poll, sparked mass protests. On Sunday, more than 100,000 people marched to the president’s residence asking him to resign. Balaclava riot police arrested 633 people. Gangs of pro-government thugs beat protesters on their way home.
It is not clear who kidnapped Koselnikova. His missing coordinating council colleagues include Anton Rodnenkov, Ivan Kravtsov, and Maxim Bogretsov. His press team is also missing.
Speaking to the local news site, a woman identified as Anastasia said she saw Kolesnikova on the street. She said she was going to contact her and thank her for her work when she changed her mind, thinking Kolesnikova looked exhausted.
He said: “Then I noticed a dark minivan with the motto ‘Svyaz’ on the side, parked not far from the museum. I continued and then I heard the sound of a phone dropping on the floor. I turned and saw people in civilian clothes and masks dragging Maria to the van. The phone flew out of his hand. One of them picked it up, got into the truck and left ”.
His phone did not answer.
Kolesnikova’s press secretary Rodnenkov confirmed her kidnapping but disappeared about 40 minutes later. Kolesnikova’s allies said they were looking into the report of her arrest. Russian news agency Interfax quoted Minsk police as saying they did not detain her.
Before the election, Kolesnikova had joined forces with opposition presidential candidate Tikhanovskaya, who later fled to Lithuania, and with Veronika Tsepkalo, who has since left the country. Another prominent activist, Olga Kovalkova, arrived in Poland on Saturday and said she was told she would be arrested if she stayed in Belarus.
Senior members of the Belarusian opposition accused the EU of failing to respond to Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters. Andrei Sannikov, who opposed Lukashanko in the 2010 presidential election and was subsequently jailed, said sanctions were urgently needed.
On Monday, central bank data showed that Belarus had spent nearly a sixth of its reserves on gold and foreign exchange, or $ 1.4 billion (£ 1.06 billion), in August as it struggled to sustain its currency ruble during the wave of riots.
Kolesnikova announced on August 31 that she was forming a new political party, Together, with the team of jailed opponent Viktor Babariko with whom she had previously worked.
Kolesnikova, a flutist and music teacher, got involved in politics by leading the campaign of another opposition politician, former banker Viktor Babaryko, who tried to run for president against Lukashenko but was jailed and banned.
When Tikhanovskaya, an English teacher and translator with no political experience, was unexpectedly allowed to run for president, Kolesnikova and Tsepkalo supported her and spoke to her side at the demonstrations.
The women came up with characteristic gestures: for Tikhanovskaya a raised fist, for Kolesnikova a heart formed by her fingers, and for Tsepkalo a sign of victory.
Kolesnikova and other members of Babaryko’s campaign team announced last month the creation of a new opposition party called Together.