Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko attends a session of the Collective...

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko attends a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. Credit: AP/Valery Sharifulin

TALLINN, Estonia — Belarus' criminal investigation agency said Tuesday that it has conducted raids as part of a sweeping probe into an alleged attempt by the opposition to seize power three years ago. Critics called it the latest move in authorities' crackdown on dissent.

Belarus was rocked by mass protests during President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed election victory in 2020, which the opposition and the West condemned as fraudulent. Lukashenko's government responded with a crackdown. Police detained around 35,000 people and beat thousands.

Pavel Latushka, a former government minister turned opposition activist who fled Belarus, told The Associated Press that his home in Minsk was searched by authorities, along with the apartments of dozens of opposition activists and their relatives across the country. He said the raids involved police armed with assault rifles who broke doors.

“This is yet another wave of brutal suppression of dissent and crude harassment of those who left the country and particularly those who have remained in Belarus,” Latushka said. “This is the authorities' revenge against those who have demanded criminal prosecution of Lukashenko and his entourage over the crimes they have committed.”

Belarus' Investigative Committee said the searches were part of a criminal investigation into the activities of the Coordination Council that was set up by the opposition after the 2020 vote to manage protests. Members included author Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature who left Belarus, and Ales Bialiatski, Belarus’ top human rights advocate and one of the winners of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize who is serving a 10-year prison term.

Authorities have previously labeled the council as “extremist” and accused its members of committing high treason and plotting to seize power. The Investigative Committee said it would push for the seizure of apartments and other assets belonging to council members.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left Belarus under official pressure after the 2020 vote, denounced the new raids and called for the global community to condemn the Belarusian authorities' actions.

“This well-known tactic by the regime aims to intimidate opponents,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “However, such crude repression cannot silence us.”

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