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Germany warns Belarus against disappearances

September 8, 2020

The German foreign minister has warned Belarus against failing to change course in its brutal crackdown against protesters. He called for the immediate release of opposition figures kidnapped by unidentified masked men.

Opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova stands in front of riot police
Image: picture-alliance/AA/M. Serebryakova

Where is Maria Kolesnikova? Belarussian opposition leader Maksim Znak speaks to DW

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday called on Belarus to clarify the whereabouts of opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova following reports she was kidnapped by masked men in the capital Minsk.

"We are alarmed by Ms. Kolesnikova's disappearance," said Maas. "The opposition in Belarus is ready for dialogue but faces waves of repression which is unacceptable."

Opposition figure Maksim Znak told DW that Kolesnikova was prepared for the eventuality of a kidnapping, saying: "She knew about the risk." Znak said her disappearance would "only make [the protests] more massive."

Since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko declared victory in a contentious presidential election last month, the former Soviet nation has seen thousands of protesters rally against his 26-year rule.

Belarusian authorities have responded by cracking down on anti-government protesters and targeting opposition figures, including the leading opposition group, the Coordination Council, which has accused Lukashenko's regime of "openly using methods of terror."

The Belarusian interior ministry has denied any involvement in the abduction of the opposition figures.

Read more: The people 'want a new Belarus,' opposition leader says

EU threatens sanctions

Maas threatened action if Lukashenko "does not change course," noting that Germany was working with the EU "on a sanction package."

More than 600 people have been arrested as part of the government's crackdown. Two other opposition figures were also kidnapped on Monday, according to opposition groups.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell called for "the immediate release of all detained on political grounds before and after the falsified 9 August presidential elections." He said the EU would impose sanctions on "individuals responsible for violence, repression and falsification of election results."

"It is clear that the State authorities in Belarus continue to intimidate or allow intimidation of its citizens in an increasingly lawless way and crudely violate both their own domestic laws and international obligations," Borrell said.

Commenting on Kolesnikova's disappearance, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Belarusian government "must make her safe return their highest priority" and "begin dialogue with the opposition."

Read more: Belarus' Soviet-era economy still propped up by Moscow

ls/msh (Reuters, AFP)