Belarus Detains Opposition Figure, Jails Strike Leader

Belarusian authorities on August 31 jailed a strike leader and detained a top member of an opposition council aiming to coordinate a transition of power, in the latest attempt by authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to quell opposition to his 26-year rule.

Police from the financial-crimes unit detained Lilia Vlasova, one of seven members of the Coordination Council Presidium, on August 31 after searching her home earlier in the day, her colleague Paval Latushka said in a Telegram post.

Vlasova, 67, is at least the third member of the presidium to have been detained since it was set up earlier this month following nationwide protests in the wake of the disputed August 9 presidential election.

Two members of the presidium were jailed for 10 days while at least six of the seven have been questioned since the prosecutor-general opened an investigation into the council, claiming it is attempting to illegally “seize” power.

Separately, Anatol Bokun, co-chair of the Belaruskali factory strike committee, was sentenced to 15 days in jail on charges of organizing an unsanctioned protest.

The state-run factory, which accounts for a fifth of the world’s potash fertilizer output, is the nation’s top cash earner.

Workers at the factory and some other state-run plants went on strike two weeks ago to protest the election results, posing an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenka.

The Belaruskali strike committee spokesman, Gleb Sandras, told AP news agency that the potash mines are now working after state security services pressured workers to end the strike.

Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.

“The authorities have powerful economic instruments. They are blackmailing workers with mass dismissals,” Sandras said.

Bokun's detention follows the arrests of strike leaders at two other major industrial plants in Minsk last week.

Deputy Prime Minister Yury Nazarov said on August 31 that all major industrial plants have resumed normal operations.

Lukashenka has shown no sign of giving in to nearly three weeks of protests demanding his resignation, the release of all political prisoners, and free and fair elections.

The authorities have cracked down on the opposition and the media despite international outrage and the threat of isolation.

Eliot Engel (New York), the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Michael McCaul (Texas), the committee’s ranking member, on August 31 denounced the Belarusian authorities’ recent decision to strip the accreditation from at least 17 journalists representing major foreign news organizations.

“This latest move, along with efforts to disrupt internet access, to restrict access to independent media and to detain and harass journalists, is part of a malicious campaign to silence those opposed to the dictatorship of [Lukashenka] and conceal the horrific stories of the regime’s violent crackdown,” they said in a joint statement.

With reporting by AP