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25th Sep 2020

Belarus violence goes on, as EU ministers scramble

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also spoke of targeted Belarus sanctions (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Police viciously attacked protesters in Minsk and other towns for a fourth night in a row on Wednesday (12 August), as EU ministers confirmed sanctions talks.

A 25-year old man earlier died while in police custody, Belarusian authorities said, marking the third reported death since protests broke out after Sunday's rigged election.

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Police also admitted to opening fire on people with live ammunition in the town of Brest.

About 6,000 people have so far been arrested, authorities said, some of whom, looking bruised and scared, were paraded on TV on Wednesday promising to renounce the "revolution".

"The core of all these so-called protesters today comprises people with a criminal history and the unemployed," Belarus president Aleksander Lukashenko said.

In other scenes, women dressed in white formed a human chain in Minsk city centre.

People also marched carrying flowers and gathered outside a prison.

"Leave before it's too late, before you've thrown people into a terrible abyss, into the abyss of civil war," Belarusian Nobel prize laureate, the writer Svetlana Alexievich, said in an appeal to Lukashenko on the RFE/RFL news agency.

EU talks

EU foreign ministers will hold emergency talks on Belarus on Friday, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said.

The Lebanon explosion and Turkey's naval incursion into disputed waters will also be on the agenda, he noted.

Meanwhile, reimposing sanctions on the Belarusian regime was advocated by Sweden, echoing calls by a group of MEPs and by Belarusian opposition leaders.

"I absolutely think we need to consider broadening targeted sanctions against those responsible for the violence against the protesters [and] for the election fraud - those involved in the electoral process not having turned out free and fair," Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde told Swedish radio on Wednesday.

The EU should "show support for the peaceful protesters and exchange ideas on how the EU could help them", Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz said in a letter to Borrell, seen by the Reuters news agency.

But no EU minister has so far mentioned economic sanctions, which could be more destabilising to Lukashenko.

Open borders

The crisis has begun to seize the attention of EU leaders, with French president Emmanuel Macron saying he was "very worried" by events.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo also urged Europe to "take action", so that "the people of Belarus ... have the freedoms that they are demanding".

But EU help, so far, has been limited to political declarations and to Lithuania and Poland opening their borders for Belarusians fleeing the crackdown.

"Lithuania is ready and considering the possibility of accepting Belarusians, suffering from the ongoing brutalities, on humanitarian grounds," Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius said.

EU wary of violence in Belarus election

EU states have voiced fear of violence during Belarus elections on Sunday, as president Aleksander Lukashenko seeks to maintain his third decade in power.

EU visa bans to 'pressure' Lukashenko

Belarus officials who ordered violence and faked elections are to face EU visas bans and asset freezes, foreign ministers agreed on Friday.

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