EU readies sanctions against Belarus leader Lukashenko

International

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell rings a bell to signal the start of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers at the European Council building in Luxembourg, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. European Union foreign ministers were weighing Monday whether to impose sanctions on Russian officials and organizations blamed for the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a Soviet-era nerve agent. (Jean-Christophe Verhaegen, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union warned Monday that it has seen no improvement in Belarus and stands ready to impose sanctions on President Alexander Lukashenko and other officials if he fails to enter into talks with the opposition and order an end to the crackdown on protesters launched after a disputed election in August.

Earlier this month, EU leaders imposed sanctions on 40 Belarusian officials who the bloc believes are responsible for violence against peaceful demonstrators, opposition members and reporters, as well as “misconduct” during the presidential election. The Aug. 9 vote returned Lukashenko to power for a sixth term, but opposition members and some poll workers say it was riddled with fraud.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of protesters rallied in the capital Minsk for the 10th consecutive Sunday, part of two months of daily protests demanding the resignation of Lukashenko, who has run the country with an iron fist for 26 years. The Viasna human rights center said police tried to disperse the gathering with water cannons, stun grenades and truncheons. Dozens of protesters were injured.

Speaking after chairing a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell lamented what he called a “disproportionate response” to the rally. He also said there has been “a complete lack of will from Lukashenko’s side to engage in negotiations, contacts on anything that could bring a democratic, a peaceful solution to the situation in Belarus.”

The ministers warned that they will “scale down cooperation with Belarus,” and that “the EU stands ready to take further restrictive measures, including against entities and high-ranking officials, including A. Lukashenko.”

They insisted that observer accounts suggest the electoral process broke Belarus’ laws and reneged on its international commitments. They said in a statement that “Lukashenko lacks any democratic legitimacy” and they backed local calls for a new election.

“The EU calls on the Belarusian authorities to seek a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis through an inclusive national dialogue with broader society,” they said, and backed a plan by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to help set up such talks.

Borrell said the EU will “recalibrate” its financial aid to Belarus, and in the future channel money through civil society organizations rather than government channels to ensure that European funds get to people who really need it.

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Follow all AP stories on developments in Belarus at https://apnews.com/Belarus

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