Masked men in Belarus snatched leading opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova and tried to forcibly expel her from the country.
She was apparently abducted on Monday morning. An eyewitness told the Tut.by news website she saw her being bundled into the back of a black van.
The van was nearing the Ukraine border when she tore up her passport and jumped out of the rear window. She then walked back to the Belarus border.
Kolesnikova is a key leader of protests against President Alexander Lukashenko’s seemingly never-ending rule. She has always insisted she would not leave Belarus voluntarily.
Border officials claimed she had been trying to flee the country, but colleagues said authorities want to exile her as this is necessary to de-escalate the situation in Belarus.
Kolesnikova’s abduction is the latest development in the unrest the country has been experiencing since a disputed presidential election last month.
Lukashenko, who has been dubbed Europe’s last dictator, won more than 80% of the vote, according to officials. Opponents claim the ballot was rigged.
Lukashenko, in an interview with Russian media, claimed Kolesnikova was “fleeing to Ukraine”, and said border guards “detained her as was required”.
“The people in the car hit the gas and she was apparently thrown out of the car as it was moving,” he further explained.
France’s foreign ministry condemned “arbitrary arrests” and the practice of forcing opposition leaders into exile.
Amnesty International also denounced what it called “abduction-style arrests” and called for “an end to the campaign of intimidation and political persecution against opponents of the administration”.
The strongman himself told television channels: “If Lukashenko collapses today, the whole system will collapse and Belarus will collapse in turn. If Belarus falls, Russia will be next.”
Roman Babayan, editor-in-chief of the Govorit Moskva radio station, who spoke to him in Minsk, claimed that Lukashenko admitted he “may have overstayed as president a bit”, but could not leave immediately.
“I’ve been building up Belarus for a quarter of a century,” Babayan cited Lukashenko as saying. “I won’t give all that up just like that. Besides, if I go, my supporters will be massacred.”