The European Union is preparing sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for a deadly post-election crackdown on protesters, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said.
The green light was given by the 27 EU foreign ministers during a videoconference in Brussels on Friday, as protests across Belarus over the controversial August 9 elections continued for a sixth day.
“The EU will now launch a process of sanctions against those responsible for the violence, arrests and election-related fraud,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said after the emergency talks.
Those to be sanctioned include those responsible for police violence and electoral fraud.
President Alexander Lukashenko, 65, has won a landslide victory for a sixth term, but now faces the biggest challenge of his 26-year reign.
Her 37-year-old rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently in exile in the neighborhood Lithuania, called for an intensification of protests over the weekend and a recount of votes.
At least two protesters have died and around 6,700 have been arrested this week. Angry protesters, some of whom accused police of torture while in detention, claimed the ballot was rigged.
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Ahead of the EU meeting, calls to action were made by several members of the bloc, in particular Belarus’s neighbors, Poland and Lithuania.
Poland, Latvia and Lithuania say they are ready to act as mediators to try to resolve the post-electoral crisis, after the poll that Brussels has already described as “neither free nor fair”.
The EU first imposed sanctions on Belarus in 2004. It toughened them in 2011 due to violations of human rights and democratic standards, including vote rigging.
Many were lifted after the release of political prisoners by Lukashenko in 2016. But an arms embargo remains, as do sanctions against four people for the unresolved disappearance of two opposition activists, a journalist and a businessman. business, years ago.
Huge protests continue
Lukashenko denies electoral fraud. His government released many jailed protesters on Friday after making a rare public apology.
However, citizens took to the streets of the capital, Minsk, and other cities on Friday, with Tikhanovskaya calling for mass weekend rallies to denounce the longtime leader’s contested claim for re-election.
“We must end the violence on the streets of Belarusian cities. I call on the authorities to put an end to this and to come to the negotiating table ”, Tikhanovskaya said in a video address.
“I call on the mayors of all cities to organize peaceful mass rallies in each city on August 15 and 16. ”
On Friday, workers at several factories went on strike, prompting Lukashenko to denounce the participants and said that only “saving the factories would feed their families”.
“The crowds are swelling by the minute on Independence Square in Minsk,” said Step Vaessen of Al Jazeera, from the capital.
She said workers at a tractor factory on the outskirts of the city quit work and walked towards the city center, which caused tensions when the military police arrived.
“People were really scared,” she says. “But then, surprisingly, these soldiers put down their shields, which led to some very moving scenes with women hugging them and people really crying. “