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EU will not recognise Lukashenko’s re-election, plans sanctions on those behind protest crackdown

Photo at the EU headquarters in Brussels shows a screen displaying European Council President Charles Michel (top) presiding over a meeting of EU officials on Belarus on  August 19, 2020.
Photo at the EU headquarters in Brussels shows a screen displaying European Council President Charles Michel (top) presiding over a meeting of EU officials on Belarus on August 19, 2020. © Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AFP
18 min

The EU does not recognise the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at an emergency summit on Wednesday. European Council President Charles Michel said the bloc will impose sanctions on those involved in electoral fraud or the repression of protests. 

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"There is no doubt that there were massive rule violations in the election," Merkel told reporters in Berlin after an emergency video summit with EU leaders. "The election was neither free nor fair. And that's why the result of the election cannot be recognised."

"We stand with the peaceful demonstrators," she added. Germany currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency. 

European Council chief Michel said EU sanctions would soon be imposed on the country.

"The EU will impose shortly sanctions on a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression and election fraud," Michel announced.

EU announcements 'grist to the mill of Lukashenko's rhetorical line'
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Visegrad group warns against ‘foreign actors’

EU commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that EU funds slated for Belarus would be rerouted to civil society instead of the government. Approximately €53 million in European Commission funds earmarked for Belarus will be funnelled towards civil society, victims of the state crackdown on protesters and the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovak presidents – whose countries comprise the EU’s four-member, Eastern European Visegrad Group – said in a joint statement that the Belarussian authorities should "open the way for the political solution".

They also called on "any foreign actors to refrain from actions that would undermine Belarus's independence and sovereignty" – a reference to Russia, which has promised assistance to Lukashenko.

Whatever outcomes of protests, Russia 'will be sure to play a role' in Belarus
02:10

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has run Belarus for 26 years, is facing massive protests after winning 80% of the vote in elections that some sectors of the population believe were rigged.

In response to the forthcoming EU measures, he ordered his government to relay “the official point of view” on the post-election protests to the leaders of France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine and to “warn them – no need to be shy – about the responsibility for fomenting unrest.”

Russia echoed his sentiment, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov alleging “attempts of direct interference” in Belarus' internal affairs.

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Lukashenko's actions 'not those of a man who looks like he's ready for dialogue'
02:27

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has run Belarus for 26 years, is facing massive protests after winning 80% of the vote in elections that some sectors of the population believe were rigged.

Western officials are trying to head off an escalation along the lines of the crisis in Ukraine six years ago, when a violent crackdown by pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich led to his downfall in a popular uprising followed by a Russian military intervention that gave rise to Europe's deadliest ongoing conflict.

"Violence has to stop and a peaceful and inclusive dialogue has to be launched. The leadership of #Belarus must reflect the will of the people," Michel, the EU summit chairman, wrote in a tweet announcing the start of the video summit, adding that he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

EU ministers to meet next week, list of individuals to sanction expected by then
03:04

Macron calls for ‘calm and dialogue’

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke to Putin ahead of the EU summit in light of Russia's close economic and military ties to Belarus.

Merkel told Putin that authorities in Minsk must "enter into a national dialogue with the opposition and society to overcome the crisis" while Macron urged the Russian leader to foster "calm and dialogue".

In Kremlin readouts of the two calls, Putin emphasised that interfering in Belarus and putting pressure on its authorities would be "unacceptable".

EU leaders’ diplomatic efforts come as Lukashenko ordered his police on Wednesday to put down protests in the capital Minsk, signalling an escalation after a week and a half of mass demonstrations against his rule.

"There should no longer be any disorder in Minsk of any kind," Lukashenko said in remarks reported by the official Belta news agency. "People are tired. People demand peace and quiet."

He ordered the border to be tightened to prevent an influx of "fighters and arms". Workers at state media who have quit in protest against the government's policies would not be rehired, he said.

For its part, the Belarusian central election committee said Wednesday that Lukashenko would be inaugurated for a new term within the next two months, according to Russia's TASS news agency.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)

 

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