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Belarus Opposition

Belarus opposition politician told she would be deported ‘alive or in bits’ – BBC News

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image copyrightReuters

image captionKolesnikova is currently jailed in the capital

A detained Belarusian opposition leader has said she feared for her life when security officers threw a bag over her head during an attempt to deport her.

Through her lawyer, Maria Kolesnikova said she was forced into a van and told that if she did not leave willingly she would be removed “alive or in bits”.

She is now seeking a criminal case against Belarusian security forces including the KGB, her lawyer said.

Mass unrest has gripped Belarus since last month’s disputed polls.

Ms Kolesnikova is one of three women who joined forces to challenge President Alexander Lukashenko in August’s election. She is the last of the three women to remain inside Belarus after she resisted attempts to forcibly deport her into Ukraine earlier this week.

The main opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, says she won 60-70% of the election in places where votes were properly counted. She fled to Lithuania after she was detained in August.

What has Kolesnikova said?

In a statement filed by her lawyer, she said she had been forced into the van by masked men on Monday in the capital, Minsk.

“It was stated that if I did not voluntarily leave the Republic of Belarus, I would be taken out anyway, alive or in bits. There were also threats to imprison me for up to 25 years.”

Ms Kolesnikova was driven to the Ukrainian border with two other people, but she prevented officials forcibly expelling her by tearing up her passport and throwing it out of a car window, those who travelled with her said.

media captionIvan Kravtsov says Ms Kolesnikova tore her passport into pieces and then climbed through the rear car window

Her lawyer said her client was in “good spirits”.

What about other opposition figures?

The other two women who joined forces with Ms Kolesnikova to challenge Mr Lukashenko, Veronika Tsepkalo and presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, left the country soon after the election.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has offered Ms Tikhanovskaya a house in the country’s capital, Warsaw.

media captionLithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda: Democratic values do not have a price

European diplomats were photographed at the home of Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich in Minsk this week after she said masked men tried to break in.

She is the last leading member of the opposition Co-ordination Council still in Belarus who has not been detained.

On Wednesday, witnesses reportedly saw Maxim Znak, a lawyer and another member of the Co-ordination Council, being led down a street in the capital by masked men in plain clothes.

Belarusian authorities said both he and Ms Kolesnikova were being held on suspicion of harming national security and destabilising the country.

What’s the latest from Lukashenko?

During the inauguration of a new chief prosecutor on Thursday, the president maintained his legitimacy as leader.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionWomen were detained during a march in support of Maria Kolesnikova and other opposition leaders

“People often reproach me: ‘He won’t give up power.’ They’re right to reproach me. The people didn’t elect me for this,” he said.

“Power is not given to be taken, thrown and given away.”

The president, in power since 1994, said that Belarus could not return to the instability of the years following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

media captionWhat lies behind the Belarus protests?

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Opposition Russian

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is out of coma and responsive after suspected poisoning – CBS News

Poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s condition has improved, allowing doctors to take him out of an induced coma, the German hospital treating him said Monday. Navalny, a fierce, high-profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany last month after falling ill on Aug. 20 on a domestic flight in Russia.

German chemical weapons experts say tests show the 44-year-old was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, prompting the German government last week to demand that Russia investigate the case.

“The patient has been removed from his medically induced coma and is being weaned off mechanical ventilation,” Berlin’s Charite hospital said in a statement. “He is responding to verbal stimuli. It remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning.”

It added that the decision to publicly release details of his condition was made in consultation with Navalny’s wife.

Navalny had been in an induced coma in the Berlin hospital since he was flown to Germany on Aug. 22 for treatment.

An ambulance transporting Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny drives out of a hospital in Omsk
Medical specialists carry Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a stretcher into an ambulance on their way to an airport before his medical evacuation to Germany, in Omsk, Russia, August 22, 2020. 

ALEXEY MALGAVKO/REUTERS


News of his gradual recovery came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office indicated that she might be willing to rethink the fate of a controversial German-Russian gas pipeline project – a sign of Berlin’s growing frustration over Moscow’s stonewalling about the Navalny case.

German authorities said last week that tests showed “proof without doubt” that Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group. British authorities identified the Soviet-era Novichok as the poison used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018.

Russia has denied that the Kremlin was involved in poisoning Navalny and accused Germany failing to provide evidence about the poisoning that it requested in late August.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday that the Russian reaction could determine whether Germany changes its long-standing backing for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine.

“The chancellor also believes that it’s wrong to rule anything out,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Monday.

Previously, Merkel had insisted on “decoupling” the Navalny case from the pipeline project that is strongly opposed by the U.S. and strongly favored by Russia.

In August, three U.S. Republican senators threatened sanctions against the operator of a German Baltic Sea port for its role as a staging post for ships involved in building Nord Stream 2.

Seibert cautioned that it was premature to expect Moscow to respond to the request for help with the Navalny probe within a few days, but made it clear that Berlin wants answers soon.

“I can’t express a clear, time-limited expectation, except that we are certainly not talking about months or the end of the year,” he said.

German diplomats rejected the Russian suggestion that Berlin was to blame for any delay in investigating the case, noting that Navalny was first treated for suspected poisoning in the Siberian city of Omsk on Aug. 20.

“All evidence, witnesses, traces and so forth are in the place where the crime was committed, presumably somewhere in Siberia,” said German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger.

The co-leader of Germany’s opposition Green party, Robert Habeck, called on the government to take a stronger stance and “bury” the pipeline project.

The project “divides Europe, it is economically nonsensical and oversized, and it is wrong in security policy terms,” Habeck said. Completing it “would mean that Russia can do what it wants. This signal must not be sent.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian envoy to international organizations in Vienna, voiced suspicions about the timing of demands to link the pipeline with the Navalny case.

“Suspicious coincidence of Navalny case and the final stage of Nord Stream 2 construction, which some states desperately want to be closed. I am not fond of conspiracy theories but it is obvious that the tragic events with Navalny are very timely and helpful for opponents of NS2,” he tweeted.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Putin critic who lives in exile in London, told CBS News in 2017 there was little Navalny can do to prevent an attack from happening. “It’s like walking through construction site with bricks falling from up above. A brick might strike you, it might not strike you. The only choice you have is whether to walk through this construction site or not.”

In 2017, “CBSN: On Assignment” spent a week with Navalny.  Watch the video here:


The Challenger

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figure Opposition

Key opposition figure in Belarus disappears after weekend of mass protests – ABC News

Maria Kolesnikova is a central figure of the protests in Belarus.

September 7, 2020, 2:53 PM

5 min read

LONDON — A key opposition leader in Belarus has disappeared in the country’s capital, Minsk, after another weekend of mass protests against the rule of embattled President Alexander Lukashenko.

Maria Kolesnikova, the central opposition figure inside the Eastern European nation, was seen being bundled into a vehicle by men in plainclothes, according to independent Belarusian news outlet Tut.By. Kolesnikova’s press representative, Gleb German, confirmed to ABC News that their team had had “no contact” with her Monday. Her whereabouts, along with that of two other leaders involved in the opposition’s Coordination Council, Anton Ronenkov and Ivan Kravstov, are unknown and their lawyers are looking for them, according to German.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus said they had no information on the alleged disappearances, according to Russian news agency Interfax.

With Belarus’ main opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskay, sheltering in neighboring Lithuania, Kolesnikova has become a highly visible figure in the ongoing protests against Lukashenko, known as “Europe’s last dictator,” who has served as president for 26 years. The protests erupted in the wake of the country’s contested election last month, in which Tikhanovskay ran against Lukashenko and the autocratic president claimed 80% of the vote.

For several weekends in a row, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets demanding Lukashenko step down. Kolesnikova has regularly been seen out in the open during those demonstrations, talking to several media outlets in the process, including ABC News.

“Till victory, we will not stop down,” Kolesnikova told ABC News at a recent protest. “We are ready to go to the victory and it takes a lot of time and energy, but we are ready.”

Kolesnikova’s disappearance raises serious concerns about the safety of opposition activists inside Belarus. Hundreds more arrests were made by Belarusian security forces over the weekend, and foreign media outlets have been banned from working in the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Belarus’ beleaguered president, has created a “reserve” force to use in the neighboring country, but for the time being has said there is no cause to intervene on behalf of Lukashenko. Russian state media journalists have already been sent to replace Belarusian workers on strike at Belarus’ state television service, and many of Russia’s top ministers met with their Belarusian counterparts this week.

The disappearance of Kolesnikova comes less than a week after German doctors discovered that Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, developed as part of a secret Soviet chemical weapons program. Navalny, one of Putin’s fiercest critics, was recently removed from a medically-induced coma at a Berlin hospital, after falling ill on a plane in Siberia just over two weeks ago.

Belarus’ security force, still known as the KGB, has stepped up its clampdown on key figures of the protest movement in recent days.


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Opposition Russian

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is out of a coma, hospital says – CNN

Berlin (CNN)Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is out of a medically induced coma, the German hospital where he is being treated said in a statement on Monday.

Navalny “is being weaned off mechanical ventilation” and “is responding to verbal stimuli,” Berlin’s Charité Hospital said. “It remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning,” the hospital added.
The critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin became sick from suspected poisoning on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk on August 20.
Germany’s government said last week that tests on Navalny showed “unequivocal evidence” of the use of a chemical nerve agent from the Soviet-era Novichok group.
The attack on Navalny was met with widespread international condemnation, while the Kremlin has remained defiant in the face of global unease over Russia’s role in the incident.
Navalny’s team have pointed the finger of blame directly at Putin.
“In 2020, poisoning Navalny with Novichok is exactly the same as leaving an autograph at the scene of the crime,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, wrote over a picture of Putin’s signature after the poisoning, in a tweet that has since been deleted.
Novichok agents are highly unusual, so much so that that very few scientists outside of Russia have any real experience in dealing with them.
The lethal chemical weapons were first developed in secret by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Even today, no country outside of Russia is known to have developed substances in the group.
Novichok was also used in a March 2018 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English cathedral city of Salisbury.
Later on Monday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that he has summoned Russian ambassador Andrey Kelin. “Today the UK summoned Russia’s Ambassador to the UK to register deep concern about the poisoning of Alexey Navalny,” Raab said on Twitter.
“It’s completely unacceptable that a banned chemical weapon has been used and Russia must hold a full, transparent investigation.”
Navalny’s poisoning and questions over the Russian state’s role may also dramatically alter the relationship between Berlin and Moscow.
During an interview with the Bild Am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, German foreign minister Heiko Maas did not rule out freezing the European-Russian gas pipeline project — Nord Stream 2 — in response to the incident.
This stance was repeated by a German government spokesperson Monday.
“The Chancellor [Angela Merkel] has endorsed the language of the foreign minister,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said during a press conference.
Last week, Merkel said Germany’s response to the attack on Navalny would depend on the extent to which Russia provides answers as to who may be behind the poisoning.
While Seibert did not provide a deadline for such a response Monday, he made clear that Germany’s patience was not endless.
“I can’t comment on any time frames, except that we are not talking about months or until the end of the year,” he said.
Meanwhile the Russian government has said it is waiting for further information from Berlin before opening a probe into Navalny’s poisoning. Germany has dismissed this explanation.
“All evidence, witnesses, traces, etc. are located in the place where the crime was perpetrated, presumably somewhere in Siberia,” Christopher Burger, a spokesman for Germany’s foreign ministry, said Monday.
“The allegation aimed at Germany that the progress of an investigation is being stalled is therefore not valid, because Russia could start an investigation anytime without Germany if Russia is willing and if it has an interest to do so,” Burger added.

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Belarus Opposition

Belarus’ Opposition Leaders Reemerge After Post-Election Crackdown – NPR

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, candidate for Belarus’ presidential election, smiles as she speaks to people during a meeting in her support in Brest, Belarus, on Aug. 2.

Sergei Grits/AP


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Sergei Grits/AP

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, candidate for Belarus’ presidential election, smiles as she speaks to people during a meeting in her support in Brest, Belarus, on Aug. 2.

Sergei Grits/AP

Belarus’ scattered and improvised opposition is regaining its footing after five-term President Alexander Lukashenko unleashed his security forces on protesters during four nights of unprecedented violence.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main opposition candidate in Sunday’s election, resurfaced on social media Friday after the authorities pressured her to leave for neighboring Lithuania earlier this week. Tikhanovskaya, a political novice, ran against Lukashenko after her husband was denied registration as a candidate and jailed.

“I admire Belarusians. Thank you, my dear ones!” she said in a statement posted online. “We did the impossible. We showed that we’re the majority, and that this country belongs to us, the people of Belarus, and not one person.”

Tikhanovskaya said she is ready to enter talks with the government under the auspices of international partners. She appealed to law enforcement officers and military personnel to stay true to their oaths to serve the Belarusian people. And she expressed her condolences to those who had suffered at the hands of the police.

Belarus’ Interior Ministry said Friday that it had released more than 2,000 people detained during nightly protests against election fraud after Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory of 80%. Law enforcement detained 6,700 people since Sunday night, according to the ministry. As people emerged from prisons, they spoke of indiscriminate beatings and showed their injuries. Amnesty International said “Belarusian authorities wage a vicious crackdown on their own citizens.”

Outrage over the nocturnal violence brought primarily women out during the day, many wearing white and carrying flowers. Factory workers across the country then walked off the job. In a separate video message, Tikhanovskaya urged people to keep up their peaceful protest over the weekend.

Tikhanovskaya said she was forming a “coordination council” that would help secure a peaceful transfer of power.

Her initiative echoed an earlier call for a “national salvation front” by her political ally Valery Tsepkalo, a former diplomat and IT entrepreneur who, like Tikhanovskaya’s husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, was barred from running for president.

Valery Tsepkalo, an opposition politician from Belarus and former ambassador to the United States, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press near Red Square in Moscow, on July 28, with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP


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Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Valery Tsepkalo, an opposition politician from Belarus and former ambassador to the United States, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press near Red Square in Moscow, on July 28, with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

“The national salvation front is a big movement that would include everybody, all different political parties who share the same goal: to release political prisoners and to have free and fair presidential elections,” Tsepkalo told NPR in an interview.

After the departure of Lukashenko from office, he said, the national salvation front would set up a caretaker government of technocrats until a new president can be elected.

Tikhanovskaya campaigned on the promise of serving as a transitional leader who would be in office only long enough to hold new elections with the participation of all opposition candidates, such as her husband, Tsepkalo or Viktor Babariko, another presidential hopeful now in pretrial detention on fraud charges.

Tsepkalo served as Lukashenko’s ambassador to the U.S. from 1997 to 2002, before diplomatic relations between the two countries deteriorated. Inspired by the success of Silicon Valley, Tsepkalo helped set up the Belarus Hi-Tech Park when he returned to Minsk. He said the last time he met Lukashenko was more than a decade ago to discuss the tech park.

Women In Belarus Take To The Streets To Protest Post-Election Crackdown

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, almost its entire period of independence from the Soviet Union. The Kremlin views Belarus as a buffer state between Russia and NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia — and has subsidized the regime in Minsk with cheap energy deliveries. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has a testy relationship with Lukashenko, has recently cut discounts on oil and gas as a way of pressuring Belarus into closer political and economic integration.

Putin congratulated Lukashenko on Monday, right after Chinese President Xi Jinping. In a statement, Putin said that he looked forward to greater economic, political and military cooperation with Belarus.

“We are very disappointed by the fact that Putin congratulated Lukashenko on the results of the presidential campaign, which appeared to be completely false,” Tsepkalo said. “It was a kind of a betrayal from the side of the Russian government.”

The threat of Russian aggression against Belarus is a recurring theme among pundits that Lukashenko plays on himself. In late July, Belarusian security forces arrested 33 Russian citizens as Lukashenko darkly warned of foreign puppet-masters seeking to foment unrest in Belarus after the election. On Friday, he handed all but one of them — who has dual citizenship — back to Russia.

Tsepkalo said he believes a Russian military intervention is unlikely. “I do not see that it might happen,” he said. “But if it would happen, it would be a disaster for Belarus and for European security.”

In 2014, Putin annexed Crimea and fomented an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine after that country’s Kremlin-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia following a street revolution in Kyiv. Ukraine’s new government pledged to take Ukraine into NATO and the European Union.

Belarusians are more positively inclined toward Russia, and candidates like Tikhanovskaya are pro-Western in the sense that they want open, democratic societies — but not that they’re seeking NATO or EU membership.

Lukashenko has tried to use Belarus’ uncomfortable geography to his advantage, flirting with the West to ward off Putin’s embrace. In February, Lukashenko received Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and now is expecting the arrival of the first U.S. ambassador in more than a decade.

“The United States should not recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate leader,” Tsepkalo said. “The United States, I wish, would recognize Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as the winner of these presidential elections.”

If the U.S. and EU accept his claim to the presidency, Lukashenko would lose his motivation to negotiate a transfer of power with the opposition, Tsepkalo said.

On Friday, EU foreign ministers agreed to sanction officials responsible for the crackdown in Belarus. Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, tweeted, “EU doesn’t accept election results.”

Pompeo, who was traveling in Europe this week, condemned the violence, and said the U.S. would work with European allies to come up with an “appropriate response.”

Tsepkalo said he will travel to Poland next week, and that he’ll go to Washington if he succeeds in organizing congressional hearings on Belarus.

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Opposition primaries

Hong Kong: Opposition primaries draw thousands despite security law fears – BBC News

Candidates march on a street to campaign for the primary elections in Hong Kong

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

The vote will decide the opposition candidates for elections later this year

Hundreds of thousands of people in Hong Kong have voted in pro-democracy primaries, despite warnings that doing so may breach a new security law.

The two-day vote will determine the opposition candidates for September’s elections to the legislative council.

But it is being widely viewed as a test of opposition to the controversial new law that took effect last month.

The law, which gives the Chinese state new powers over the city, drew widespread international condemnation.

China has said the law is necessary to prevent the type of protests seen in Hong Kong during much of 2019, but its critics say it severely curtails freedoms guaranteed to Hongkongers for 50 years after British rule ended in Hong Kong in 1997.

On Sunday, thousands of voters queued for a second day at more than 250 polling stations around the city. Opposition activists had hoped for a high turnout, and early estimates suggested that it had exceeded their expectations.

Organisers set a target of 170,000 voters across the weekend, but officials said more than 500,000 people had taken part as of Sunday afternoon.

The voters turned out despite one senior Chinese official suggesting last week that participation in the primary could breach the new security law.

“Those who have organised, planned or participated in the primary election should be wary and avoid carelessly violating the law,” Erick Tsang, the Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs, told the Sing Tao Daily newspaper.

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Media captionHong Kong residents are worried the new law means the ‘one country, two systems’ principle no longer exists

Sunny Cheung, one of the candidates, told the Reuters news agency that a a high turnout would “send a very strong signal to the international community, that we Hong Kongers never give up”.

Eddie Chu, an opposition pro-democracy politician, called the vote a “proxy referendum against the national security law”.

The full turnout is expected to be announced early on Monday, with results coming shortly after. But there are fears among opposition activists that the authorities will move to prevent some candidates from running in September.

“They can arrest or disqualify any candidate they don’t like under the national security law without a proper reason,” said Owen Chow, a young democratic candidate.

What is the new security law?

The new, wide ranging law:

  • Makes “inciting hatred” of China’s central government and Hong Kong’s regional government illegal
  • Allows for closed-door trials, wire-tapping of suspects and the potential for suspects to be tried on the mainland
  • Means a wide range of acts, including damaging public transport facilities, can be considered terrorism
  • Requires internet providers to hand over data if requested by police

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