Belarus launches criminal case against new opposition body

Belarus’ general prosecutor’s office launched a criminal case on Thursday against a new opposition body, accusing it of an illegal attempt to seize power and a threat to national security, news wires reported. A day early President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to sweep the streets of protesters who reject his re-election.

Belarus has been facing its biggest political crisis since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with tens of thousands of demonstrators rejecting Lukashenko’s victory in an 9 August vote claimiong it was rigged. Opponents of Lukashenko unveiled the Coordination Council on Tuesday with the stated aim of negotiating a transfer of power. Its members include a Nobel Prize-winning author and the ousted head of Minsk’s main drama theatre, as well as exiled presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whose followers say she won the election.

“The accusation is completely baseless and without foundation. Our goal is to resolve the crisis without conflict. We are not calling for the seizure of power,” council member Syarhei Dyleuski, leader of a committee of striking workers at the Minsk Tractor Factory, told Reuters. After days of huge rallies drawing tens of thousands of demonstrators, protests were diminished on Thursday but not halted. Bigger rallies are expected again over the weekend.

Lukashenko announced on Wednesday he had ordered police to clear the streets of the capital, although no action was taken against hundreds of protesters who staged a rally in front of the police headquarters later that day. By lunchtime on Thursday there was still no sign of a decisive security operation.

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