Missing Belarus opposition figure reportedly tears up passport to avoid forced deportation

A prominent member of Belarus’ political opposition has reportedly “torn up” her own passport, stopping officials forcing her to be exiled to neighbouring Ukraine.

Maria Kolesnikova’s whereabouts had been a mystery since supporters said she was snatched in the street by masked men in the capital Minsk on Monday.

She is a vocal critic of President Alexander Lukashenko and has played an important role in weeks of mass demonstrations and strikes by protesters who accuse the President of rigging his re-election.

Ms Kolesnikova’s was seen at a border crossing with Ukraine as authorities tried to force her out of Belarus, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported on Tuesday.

Deputy Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook that Ms Kolesnikova had successfully prevented “a forcible expulsion from her native country”.

“Maria Kolesnikova was not able to be deported from Belarus as this brave woman took steps to prevent her[self] from [being moved] across the border,” Mr Gerashchenko said.

“She remained on the territory of the Republic of Belarus.

“Alexander Lukashenko is personally responsible for her life and health.”

A man looks down the camera as he speaks into the microphone.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is facing growing unrest in his country, with several protests against his rule in the last month.(AP: Dmitri Lovetsky)

Interfax Ukraine quoted a source saying Ms Kolesnikova had torn up her passport so that Ukrainian border officials would be unable to let her cross.

Ms Kolesnikova’s current whereabouts were unclear.

“Ms Kolesnikova has now been detained, I can’t say concretely where she is, but she has been detained,” Anton Bychkovsky, a representative of the Belarusian border service, told Reuters by phone.

“She was detained in connection with the circumstances under which they [the group] left the territory of Belarus,” he said.

Two other opposition figures who had gone missing around the same time did enter Ukraine in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Ukrainian border service said.

Other prominent opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to flee Belarus since last month’s election after Mr Lukashenko launched a crackdown by the security forces.

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Mass demonstrations against President Alexander Lukoshenko have taken place in Belarus since the August election.

Ms Kolesnikova, a member of the opposition coordination council, was the last of three female politicians left in Belarus who joined forces before the August 9 election to try to challenge him.

Mr Lukashenko, who enjoys Russia’s support, denies that allegation and has accused foreign powers of trying to topple him in a revolution.

He has responded with a crackdown which some those detained say includes torture and beatings.

Ms Kolesnikova, in an interview with Reuters last month, called on the West not to recognise Mr Lukashenko as president and said his rule was crumbling.