Belarus protests: Trial of opposition figures begins

The trial of two leading Belarusian opposition figures has begun behind closed doors at a court in Minsk. Protest organiser Maria Kolesnikova was arrested last year after she tore up her passport to resist attempts by authorities to forcibly expel her to Ukraine. She and opposition lawyer Maxim Znak have been charged with incitement to undermine national security.

If found guilty they could each face up to 12 years in prison. Belarus was gripped by mass protests last year, triggered by an election widely believed to have been rigged in favour of Alexander Lukashenko. Street demonstrations continued for weeks after the disputed 9 August vote, which the EU and US rejected as neither free nor fair.

The protests were often broken up brutally by police, and thousands of people were detained. Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, later cracked down massively on his opponents. Attending the court behind a glass screen in the capital on Wednesday, Ms Kolesnikova smiled and danced.


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