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Belarusian protest leader charged with endangering country’s national security

Belarusian protest leader 
charged with endangering 
country’s national security

Belarusian protest leader Maria Kalesnikava, taken into custody in Belarus last week, has been charged with endangering national security, the country’s investigative agency announced on Wednesday. She faces up to five years in prison under the charge in accordance with Belarusian law.
Kalesnikava engaged in “calls for actions directed at inflicting harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement posted on the Telegram messaging network. “She remains in custody. An investigation is ongoing,” the statement said.
Kalesnikava is a close ally of Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighbouring EU state Lithuania last month amid a violent police crackdown on opposition protests.
Tikhanovskaya pledged in an interview published late Tuesday to ensure long-time President Alexander Lukashenko’s safety if he were to resign peacefully.
Russia’s foreign intelligence chief on Wednesday accused the United States of protecting Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and allocating $20 million to promote anti-government protests that erupted after disputed presidential elections.
Sergei Naryshkin, who heads the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), said Washington had taken the former presidential candidate Tikhanovskaya and other activists “firmly under its wing” in a statement published by Russian news agencies.
Naryshkin said the West had started to prepare protests long before the August 9 election, adding that the US had given various rights groups $20 million (17 million euros) in funding from last year.
The money went to “independent bloggers”, he said, while “experienced American instructors” gave training to the most promising activists in countries including Poland and Ukraine.
There have been protests in Belarus every day since the country’s disputed presidential election more than a month ago. Last weekend, at least 100,000 people gathered for a mass protest march in Minsk.
Asked whether Lukashenko’s personal safety would be guaranteed if he peacefully stepped aside, Tikhanovskaya said: “Yes, even more so,” according to an interview published by Ukrainian news outlet
Tikhanovskaya claims she is the rightful winner of the August 9 election. Within days of the vote, she fled to Lithuania amid a violent police crackdown on the protesters.
Tikhanovskaya has maintained that the protests should remain peaceful. The election’s disputed official tally gave Lukashenko more than 80 per cent of the votes. Tikhanovskaya and her supporters claim it was rigged.
The European Union has denounced the election as “neither free nor fair” and condemned the crackdown on the protests, saying “state authorities deployed disproportionate and unacceptable violence.”
Russia, Belarus’ closest ally, has thrown its weight behind Lukashenko, with Russian President Vladimir Putin promising earlier this week to provide a 1.5-billion-dollar credit line to Lukashenko’s government.