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Belarusian opposition leader refuses to be thrown out of the country – POLITICO

MINSK — Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova reportedly tore up her passport on the border with Ukraine on Tuesday morning to prevent authorities from forcibly deporting her from the country.

“Kolesnikova could not be expelled from Belarus, because this brave woman took action to prevent her movement across the border. She remained on the territory of Belarus,” Anton Gerashchenko, Ukrainian deputy interior minister, posted on his Facebook page. He added that authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko is personally responsible “for [Kolesnikova’s] life and health.”

Kolesnikova was snatched from the streets of Minsk on Monday. She is a member of the opposition Coordination Council, set up to arrange a peaceful transfer of power after the August 9 presidential election. Lukashenko claims to have won 80 percent of the vote, but his rival Svetlana Tihkhanovskaya says she was the real winner.

Lukashenko has denounced the council as an illegal body and the authorities are arresting and deporting its members.

Kolesnikova was taken together with the spokesman of the Coordination Council, Anton Rodnenkov, and the body’s executive secretary, Ivan Kravtsov. All three were driven to the border with Ukraine; Rodenkov and Kravtsov were forced into Ukraine.

Lukashenko talked about Kolesnikova in an interview Tuesday with Russian media.

“Together with two fellow travelers last night she tried to leave for Ukraine. At the border crossing, they presented documents to Belarusian border guards, after which they were allowed into the territory between the Republic of Belarus and Ukraine. Here, during a second check, Kolesnikova was thrown out of the car, and her fellow travelers in the car broke into the territory of Ukraine,” Lukashenko said.

Russia’s Interfax news agency, which is well-sourced in Belarusian law enforcement agencies, reported that Kolesnikova “tore up her passport and could not be allowed to enter the territory of Ukraine by border guards.”

The Belarusian border authorities refused to comment.

Gerashchenko said the departure of Rodnenkov and Kravtsov “was not a voluntary departure. It was a forced expulsion.”

Maksim Zmak, another leader on the opposition council, wrote on his Facebook page that he is happy Kolesnikova was able to foil “the cunning plans” of the Belarusian authorities “and emerged victorious from this situation.”

The crackdown on the opposition comes as Lukashenko digs in, with no sign that he’s prepared to negotiate any kind of a departure from power; he’s ruled the country since 1994.

“I may have slightly overstayed,” Lukashenko admitted in the interview, but added that he’s not prepared to leave the country.

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