EU, US, UK and Canada join forces to impose sanctions on Belarus – .

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EU, US, UK and Canada join forces to impose sanctions on Belarus – .


BRUSSELS – The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada joined forces on Monday to impose sanctions on several senior Belarusian officials for the forced hijacking to Minsk of an airliner traveling between two countries in the EU last month.

Asset freezes and travel bans have also been imposed on a number of officials linked to the security crackdown that continues to rock the country some 10 months after President Alexander Lukashenko returned to power in elections qualified by the government. ‘EU and others of “fraudulent”.

“We are united in our deep concern over the Lukashenko regime’s continued attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms and international law,” the four said in a joint statement.

“We are committed to supporting the long suppressed democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people and we unite to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments,” they said.

The EU struck seven people and one entity for the “forced and illegal” landing of the Ryanair plane, which was traveling from Greece to Lithuania when it was ordered to stop in Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was one of the passengers.

The four called on Minsk to cooperate with an international investigation into the incident, immediately release all political prisoners and “start a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue” with the democratic opposition and civil society.

Among those targeted by the United States were those close to Lukashenko, those accused of helping to violently suppress peaceful protests since last year, and others suspected of orchestrating election fraud.

At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers also prepared a series of economic measures aimed at hitting Lukashenko and his allies. EU leaders are expected to endorse them at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The EU has gradually stepped up sanctions since Lukashenko – dubbed Europe’s last dictator – won a sixth term last August.

But the 27-country bloc has taken a tougher approach since the Ryanair incident and the country’s alleged use of migrants to pressure neighboring Lithuania, which has provided refuge for Belarusian opposition figures and is one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics.

Among their actions on Monday, ministers imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 78 Belarusian officials and froze the assets of 8 “entities”, which are usually companies, banks or associations. This means that a total of 166 people and 15 entities are now subject to restrictive EU measures.

“This decision was taken in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, the democratic opposition and journalists,” said a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting, said the economic sanctions “will seriously harm (…) Belarus’ economy”.

The measures are expected to include measures against the export of potash – a common fertilizer ingredient – tobacco industry exports and petroleum products, among others.

“We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions – which means that we will now get to work on the economic areas of particular importance for Belarus and for the regime’s revenues, ”said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. .

“We want to say very, very clearly to Lukashenko that there is no turning back,” Maas said.

Maas said the 27 EU countries were united on sanctions “We are really, very, very determined not to budge, not just today – nothing about that will change in the weeks and months to come” , did he declare.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said EU countries thought only a month ago that it would still be possible to reason with Lukashenko but that “the mood is different now”.

Landsbergis accused Minsk of “weapon” migratory flows. He said around 500 people have fled to Lithuania, most of them from Iraq, and Belarusian border guards have brought 30 refugees to the border in recent days. He said Lithuania has limited capacity for them and is building a tent camp.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger who fled Belarus after the vote, welcomed the new measures, saying that “the EU and the entire civilized world have set themselves the goal of stopping Lukashenko and the escalation violence “.

“EU sanctions would increase not only external pressure, but also internal pressure on Lukashenko (…) and would make it more costly for its main sponsor, the Kremlin, to maintain the Belarusian regime,” she said.

Tsikhanoskaya said the Ryanair incident showed that “the Lukashenko regime has become a threat not only to Belarusian citizens but also to international security”.

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Geir Moulson in Berlin and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

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