Belarus opens criminal proceedings against opposition leaders

Moscow, Aug 20 (efe-epa).- Belarusian authorities on Thursday opened criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, who are accused of attempting to seize power from president Aleksander Lukashenko.

“The creation and activity of the Coordination Council are aimed at seizure of state power, and at harming national security,” an indictment from the chief prosecutor Alexandr Koniuk said.

The prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case against the Coordination Council, which this week held its first meeting following a disputed election on Aug. 9.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has fled to Lithuania, unveiled the Council on Tuesday, which she said was created to ensure a transfer of power, and asked foreign governments and the EU to “help us in organising a dialogue with Belarusian authorities”.

Lukashenko claims to have won a landslide 80 percent of the vote, which opposition leaders and the international community have dismissed as fraudulent.

Massive protests in the capital city Minsk calling on Lukashenko, in power since 1994, to step down have triggered the most severe political crisis of his reign.

“I call on you not to recognise these fraudulent elections. Mr Lukashenko has lost all the legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” Tijanovskaya said in a video broadcast on Youtube.

Tikhanovskaya, who ran in the 9 August elections in place of her husband, jailed blogger Siarhei Tikhanovskaya, has gone into exile in neighboring Lithuania.

The leaders of the newly created body could be sentenced to five years in prison for violating article 361 of the penal code, which punishes calls to take power as well as urging foreign groups or countries to take actions that could harm Belarus’ national security.

“The creation of such bodies is not allowed in law, and they are unconstitutional,” Koniuk said in a video statement.

“Several citizens, realising that such activities are illegal, have said they are quitting the council and disagree with its aims,” he added.

Lukashenko has openly accused the opposition of trying to usurp power and has warned that he would “take adequate measures, in strict compliance with the Constitution and the law. They provide for sufficient measures to calm some hot heads.”

But jurist Maxim Znak, a member of the opposition Council, denied that its members had broken the law, although he did confirm that some had stepped down from their positions after the criminal case was opened. EFE-EPA


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