Germany calls on Lukashenko to clarify whereabouts of protest leader Kolesnikova

A demonstrator flashes the V sign during an opposition rally to protest the disputed results of the Aug. 9, 2020, presidential election in Minsk on Sept. 6, 2020. Photo by AFP

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany has called on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to clarify what happened to protest leader Maria Kolesnikova following reports that the opposition politician was detained by unidentified masked men in Minsk on Monday morning.

Kolesnikova, a member of the opposition coordination council, is the last of three female politicians left in Belarus who joined forces before an Aug. 9 presidential election to try to challenge veteran incumbent Lukashenko.

“We are very concerned about Ms. Kolesnikova. We demand clarity about the whereabouts and the release of all political prisoners in Belarus,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in comments tweeted by the foreign ministry.

Germany, which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, is working “at full speed” on a package of EU sanctions against the leaders in Belarus, Maas added.

Three EU diplomats told Reuters earlier on Monday that the EU aims to impose economic sanctions on 31 senior Belarus officials, including the interior minister, by mid-September in response to the election that the West says was rigged.

Almost a month into mass protests against the outcome of the contest, in which Lukashenko claimed victory to prolong his 26-year-old rule, the EU aims to punish the government crackdown and support calls for new elections.

Maas said the continued arrests of and violence against opposition members and demonstrators were unacceptable.

“Anyone who sees the pictures of the peaceful demonstrations from Minsk cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that people are demanding a change in politics and leadership style,” Maas said.

Germany and other European countries have repeatedly asked Lukashenko to start a political dialogue with the opposition, but this demand has been ignored, Maas said.

“If Mr. Lukashenko does not change his course, we in the EU will react,” Maas added.