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Czechs To Set Up Representative Office For Belarusian Opposition

By RFE/RL June 29, 2021

PRAGUE -- The Czech Republic has agreed to establish an official office in Prague for the Belarusian opposition as it battles a brutal crackdown at home under the direction of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

"The Belarusian opposition has and will have the unequivocal support of the Czech Republic," Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said in a tweet announcing the move just weeks after opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited Prague.

The Belarusian opposition already has similar offices in Lithuania and Poland.

"A good reminder of 1920s when democratic Russians found a safe place in Prague" Jakub Janda, the director of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague, said in a tweet.

Lukashenka's regime has been under international pressure since it launched a brutal crackdown on the political opposition and the independent media in the wake of a disputed election in August 2020.

The protesters have said that election was rigged, and that their candidate was the victor. The EU, the United States, and other countries have refused to recognize the official results of the vote and do not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader.

The crisis hit a new level on May 23 when Belarusian authorities scrambled a military jet to escort an Athens-Vilnius Ryanair flight to land in Minsk in what many countries regarded as a "state hijacking." After the plane, which was diverted just before it left Belarusian airspace, landed, law enforcement immediately arrested opposition blogger Pratasevich and Sapega, his Russian girlfriend.

The European Union, the United States, Britain, and Canada have previously slapped sanctions on Belarus over the diversion of the Ryanair flight, including asset freezes and visa bans imposed against dozens of officials, lawmakers, and ministers from Lukashenka's administration and his family members, as well as Belarusian entities.

Belarus responded to the latest set of EU sanctions by cutting ties with the bloc. In a statement on Facebook on June 28, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced, among other measures, that Minsk had recalled its permanent representative to the EU for consultations and was suspending its participation in the Eastern Partnership program, which seeks closer cooperation between the EU and six former Soviet republics -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The European Union has said it regrets Belarus's decisions, saying they will only further isolate the country and have a negative impact on the Belarusian people.

Speaking to Current Time on June 29, Tsikhanouskaya's representative, Valery Kovalevsky, said the opposition leader "will insist that Belarus continues being a member of the Eastern Partnership."

"We will continue working within the framework of this organization, and we will attend, among other things, the Eastern Partnership summit" on October 2021, Kovalevsky said, calling the Eastern Partnership program "a wonderful platform to work for the interests of the Belarusian people."

Current Time is the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/czech-representative- office-belarus-opposition/31331362.html

Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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