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Belarus launches probe into new opposition body

August 20, 2020

A criminal investigation has been opened into attempts by the opposition to "seize power" following disputed elections. The Coordination Council was set up by allies of exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Anti-government protesters hold up their phones with flashlights
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Sputnik/V. Tolochko

Prosecutors in Belarus on Thursday launched an investigation into the nascent Coordination Council established by the opposition to support a transition of power.

The decision came after President Alexander Lukashenko declared the formation of the council illegal and as fresh protests took place in Minsk calling for the 65-year-old strongman's departure from office.

The prosecutor's office announced in the Telegram news channel that members of the council were trying to seize power illegitimately.

"The creation and activities of such a council are aimed at seizing power and undermining the national security of Belarus," Prosecutor General Alexander Konyuk said in a video statement.

The allies of exiled opposition leader and political newcomer Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya convened the first meeting of the council this week and called for new elections.

Read more: Is Belarus closer to the West or to Russia?

Support for Belarusian detainees

Council rejects accusations

Reacting to the criminal probe, the council issued a statement rejecting the accusations and said its efforts were lawful.

"The accusation is completely baseless and without foundation. Our goal is to resolve the crisis without conflict. We are not calling for the seizure of power," council member Syarhei Dyleuski, leader of a committee of striking workers at the Minsk Tractor Factory, told Reuters.

Belarus has been facing its biggest political crisis since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with tens of thousands of protesters rejecting Lukashenko's victory in an August 9 vote his opponents say was rigged.

Thousands of protesters have been arrested, with many of those freed claiming to have been mistreated in detention. Three protesters have died, according to media reports.

The EU has condemned the vote as "neither free nor fair" and repeatedly denounced the police violence against demonstrators. Brussels is also drawing up sanctions against senior Belarusian officials.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday called for Lukashenko to be part of talks to try to end the political crisis.

"The elections were not fair, they were not free," she said "But despite that, Mr Lukashenko is still there. If I’m calling for a national dialogue that should naturally include the people in power there."

Belarus Protests: How Will Putin React?

However, Paul Ziemiak, general secretary of Merkel's center-right CDU party told DW on Thursday that he believes that it's too late for negotiations with the Belarusian leader

."The gap between those who take to the streets there peacefully and the measures that have been ordered and tolerated is too great, a lot of trust has been lost," he said.

Ziemiak held talks with opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania on Wednesday. The meeting likely prompted Lukashenko's longtime ally, Russia, to warn on Thursday that any signs that foreign countries were in talks with the Belarusian opposition would be a sign of interference in Minsk's internal affairs.

Moscow has offered to help Lukashenko maintain security amid rising protests.

Women protesters in Minsk
Women held flowers during a demonstration against violence following recent anti-governemnt protests in MinskImage: Reuters/V. Fedosenko

Fresh protests and state TV strike

Demonstrators again took to the streets of the capital, Minsk, and other cities on Thursday, keeping up their push for the nation's authoritarian leader to step down after extending his 26-year rule.

Hundreds of employees of Belarusian state television also went on strike, with journalists complaining they were being prevented from reporting on the government's brutal crackdown on protesters.

Vyacheslav Lomonosov, one of the Belarusian TV employees who joined the labor action, said he and his colleagues could no longer tolerate an official ban on reporting on the uprising.

"There are people killed, raped, thousands are protesting, while they're saying everything's fine in the country and nothing is going
on," he said. "It can't be like that, people need to get the truth from TV.''

Since Monday, factory workers, medical workers, actors, musicians and other workers have gone on strike to demand Lukashenko's
mm/rt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)