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EU Leaders Seek to Ramp up Pressure on Belarus President

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BRUSSELS—European Union leaders put on a show of support on Wednesday for people protesting in Belarus. At an emergency teleconference they underlined their concern about the contested presidential election and ratcheted up pressure on officials linked to the security crackdown that followed.

The EU believes that the results of the Aug. 9 polls, which handed President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term with 80 percent of the vote, “have been falsified,” and the 27-nation bloc is preparing a list of Belarus officials who could be blacklisted from Europe over their roles.

European Council President Charles Michel
European Council President Charles Michel
European Council President Charles Michel addresses European lawmakers at the European Parliament in Brussels, on July 23, 2020. (Francois Walschaerts/AP Photo)

“Our message is clear. 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,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote on Twitter, minutes after the summit he is chairing got underway.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also wrote on Twitter: “The people of Belarus have the right to a result that accurately reflects their vote. The EU, including the Netherlands, cant accept the results of these elections.”

Belarus security forces detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades, and clubs in the first four days of demonstrations. At least two protesters died.

Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the center of Minsk
Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the center of Minsk
Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the center of Minsk on Aug. 16, 2020. (Sergei Grits/AP Photo)

Workers at state-controlled companies have joined strikes this week, as the unprecedented mass protests enter their 11th day and erode the authority of the man once dubbed “Europes last dictator.”

Its not entirely clear what the Europeans can do right now, but they appear determined to help maintain the momentum that began in the streets of Minsk with a show of political support, and to revive a sanctions program on Belarus that was eased four years ago as relations with Lukashenko improved.

In a joint statement, the presidents of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—countries known as the Visegrad Four—called on Belarus authorities to “open the way for a political solution, and to abide by the fundamental human rights and freedoms while refraining from the use of violence against the peaceful demonstrators.”

Belarusian miners gather for a rally in Salihorsk
Belarusian miners gather for a rally in Salihorsk
Belarusian miners gather for a rally in Salihorsk, about 120 km (75 miles) from Minsk on Aug. 18, 2020. (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo)

They urged unnamed “foreign actors to refrain from actions that would undermine Belarus independence and sovereignty.”

In a video statement ahead of the virtual EU summit, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on Europe to support “the awakening of Belarus.”

“I call on you not to recognize these fraudulent elections. Mr. Lukashenko has lost all the legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

On the eve of the meeting, Michel had a half-hour telephone conversation with President Vladimir Putin to share the EUs concern about election irregularities and the scale of the security crackdown, and to impress upon the Russian leader the right of the Belarus people to determine their own future.

They discussed ways to encourage talks between Lukashenko and the opposition, possibly by supporting a dialogue process fostered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Judy Dempsey, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Carnegie Europe and Editor in Chief of Strategic Europe, said the emphasis from the Europeans appears to be oRead More – Source