Belarus opposition leader asks US for targeted sanctions

Washington (AFP) –


The exiled leader of the Belarusian opposition said Tuesday that she asked US leaders for tighter sanctions on businesses, hoping to force them away from veteran strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who says she easily won last year's election in which Lukashenko said he secured a sixth term, is on a visit to Washington as President Joe Biden's administration vows to step up pressure on the pro-Moscow Belarusian leader.

In a meeting Monday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Tikhanovskaya said she presented a list of companies on which she hopes the United States can impose further sanctions.

"We understand that only Belarusians themselves can bring the country to democratic changes but we hope for American active and non-symbolic participation," Tikhanovskaya told a roundtable of the State Department Correspondents' Association.

"President Biden says that the world is struggling between autocracy and democracy. So the frontline of this struggle is in Belarus at the moment. As a champion of democracy, the USA can help get things done," she said.

Tikhanovskaya said that she hoped for further sanctions against state-controlled companies in the areas of potash, oil, wood and steel.

Businesses will be forced to "understand that Lukashenko is over" and that "they have to choose to join a new, transparent country."

She also called for an end to loopholes in EU sanctions that she said allowed existing contracts with international companies to go ahead.

"Most of the international enterprises are afraid of USA sanctions first of all and even the threat of new sanctions -- new European sanctions or USA sanctions -- can influence the behavior of Lukashenko," she said.

"He is becoming more cruel now and he is escalating violence but it only shows his weakness."

Tikhanovskaya, previously a stay-at-home mother, ran in place of her husband who was detained before the election. She fled to Lithuania for safety as security forces crack down on protests.

"It's difficult to explain to people from democratic countries that I'm not leading an opposition movement, because we are the majority," she said.

"Even if Tikhanovskaya disappears one day for I don't know what reasons this uprising, this movement, we will continue."