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EU takes first step toward Belarus sanctions

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

‘Work begins on sanctioning those responsible for violence and falsification,’ the bloc’s foreign policy chief says.

EU foreign ministers on Friday took the first steps toward imposing sanctions on top officials in Belarus as protests continued to sweep the country.

The bloc doesn’t accept the country’s presidential election results, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell tweeted Friday evening after ministers met via videoconference. “Work begins on sanctioning those responsible for violence & falsification,” he added.

According to the official — and widely contested — results, incumbent strongman Alexander Lukashenko won 80 percent of the vote, triggering nationwide protests that were met with a brutal crackdown by security forces.

Linas Linkevičius, the foreign minister of Lithuania — which has been hosting opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya since she fled Belarus this week — told POLITICO that the EU had agreed to “start the technical preparations” for putting together a sanctions list.

The European External Action Service (EEAS), the bloc’s diplomatic body, has been tasked with compiling the list. How long it will take for sanctions to be imposed remains unclear, Linkevičius added.

“What happened in Belarus in the last few days is completely unacceptable and calls for a clear reaction of the EU” — German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

Germany, Sweden and Austria were among the strongest supporters of moving toward sanctions. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters: “What happened in Belarus in the last few days is completely unacceptable and calls for a clear reaction of the EU.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday joined the sanctions call. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš even called for the presidential election in Belarus to be rerun with independent monitoring and joined Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in requesting a videoconference of EU leaders.

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For now, EU officials say, no extraordinary meeting on Belarus has been scheduled.

To stem rising public anger over the crackdown and perhaps try to avoid sanctions, Belarusian authorities began releasing hundreds of demonstrators on Friday. The interior ministry said that more than 2,000 people had been released. Upon their release, many recounted beatings and torture in detention.

But “even if they stop the violence and they release detained people, it’s very important to understand that those who committed something will be held accountable, that’s also an understanding among us, among the [EU] colleagues,” Linkevičius said.


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