Protest leader Maria Kolesnikova is not in police custody, officials confirm after reports that she had been forcefully taken by unidentified people in central Minsk.

Belarusian opposition politician Maria Kolesnikova attends a rally to protest against the disputed August 9 presidential elections results in Minsk on September 6, 2020.
Belarusian opposition politician Maria Kolesnikova attends a rally to protest against the disputed August 9 presidential elections results in Minsk on September 6, 2020. (AFP)

Maria Kolesnikova's campaign team has said the leading Belarusian opposition figure was whisked away by unidentified men wearing black clothes.

Kolesnikova was one of the campaign partners of opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claimed victory against long-ruling President Alexander Lukashenko in disputed polls on August 9.

Tsikhanouskaya said the reported abduction of Kolesnikova on Monday looked like an attempt by authorities to derail the opposition’s Coordination Council and intimidate its members.

She sits on the Coordination Council that is calling for a peaceful transfer of power amid weeks of post-election demonstrations.

Kolesnikova's abduction, if confirmed, comes as Belarusian authorities appear to be stepping up their efforts to try to break protesters’ momentum.

READ MORE: Belarus authorities accused of misogyny ahead of election

Not in police custody

Unidentified men seized Kolesnikova in central Minsk and drove her away on Monday in a minibus marked "Communications", witnesses told the headquarters of the campaign team she heads, which also reported that her phone was switched off.

Belarusian police said they had not detained protest leader Maria Kolesnikova following a report that she had been detained by unidentified people in central Minsk and driven off, the Interfax news agency said.

A witness named as Anastasia told the Tut.by news website that she saw men in masks push Kolesnikova into a minibus and take her cell phone at around 0700GMT on Monday.

Belarusian authorities have already detained several members of the Coordination Council and questioned others including Kolesnikova in a probe into an alleged attempt to seize power.

Only member of trio to remain

Kolesnikova, 38, is the only one of the trio of women who fronted Tikhanovskaya's campaign to remain in Belarus, as the growing opposition movement holds huge demonstrations despite an intimidating show of force from Lukashenko, who insists on his legitimacy and has called on Russia for help.

Tikhanovskaya has taken shelter in neighbouring Lithuania and her other campaign partner, Veronika Tsepkalo, is now in Ukraine.

She said on Monday that the reported abduction of Kolesnikova looked like an attempt by authorities to derail the opposition's Coordination Council and intimidate its members.

READ MORE: Belarus women form 'lines of solidarity' against protest crackdown

Joining the opposition team

Kolesnikova, a trained flautist and music teacher, got into politics through running the campaign of another opposition politician, ex-banker Viktor Babaryko, who attempted to stand for president against Lukashenko but was jailed and barred from running.

When Tikhanovskaya, an English teacher and translator with no political experience was unexpectedly allowed to run for president, Kolesnikova and Tsepkalo backed her and spoke with her at rallies.

The women came up with signature gestures: for Tikhanovskaya a raised fist, for Kolesnikova a heart formed with her fingers and for Tsepkalo a victory sign.

Kolesnikova and other members of Babaryko's campaign team last month announced the creation of a new opposition party called Together.

READ MORE: Belarus opposition rejects 'rigged' election results

Source: TRTWorld and agencies