November 19, 2020
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers agreed to push ahead on Thursday with a new round of sanctions on Belarus that could be ready in weeks, two EU diplomats said.
The EU has already imposed a series of travel bans and asset freezes on a number of Belarusian officials in protest over an Aug. 9 presidential election the West says was rigged and over President Alexander Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on opponents.
The new sanctions are expected to target more senior officials and also entities that finance Lukashenko and his government, the diplomats said.
“There was unanimous political agreement among the EU’s 27 governments for more sanctions,” one EU diplomat told Reuters after the meeting, which was held by video conference.
“We must stop this crime against democracy.”
The EU first hit 40 Belarus officials with sanctions on Oct. 2 and has since expanded the number of people targeted.
Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the vote she says she won, urged EU leaders this week to impose “targeted financial sanctions against people… who are in the pockets of Lukashenko”.
Police in Minsk used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators last Sunday, on the 14th straight weekend of protests since the disputed election that Lukashenko says he won by a landslide.
EU governments are looking for ways to increase pressure on the Belarusian leadership, which has the backing of Russia, to end its crackdown and enter into dialogue with the opposition.
The death last week of a 31-year-old anti-government protester, after what demonstrators said was a severe beating by security forces, has further galvanised EU support for the Belarusian opposition.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Gareth Jones)