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7th Mar 2021

Belarus opposition leader urges EU to be 'braver'

  • Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called for the release of political prisoners, free elections and end to the violence (Photo: European Parliament)

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya pleaded with EU foreign ministers on Monday (21 September) to press ahead with sanctions against those involved in the fraudulent election and violent crackdown of protests in her country.

"Sanctions are very important in our fight because it's part of pressure that could force the so-called authorities to start dialogue with us in the opposition council," Tikhanovskaya told reporters in Brussels.

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"I think EU leaders have reasons not to push for sanctions, but asked them to be more brave in their decisions," she said.

On Monday, however, Cyprus blocked the approval of an assets-freeze and travel bans on those officials - as it wants to see similar sanctions against Turkey for increasing tension in the Mediterranean Sea.

After seven weeks of mass protests against president Alexander Lukashenko since his disputed 9 August election win, the EU has yet to act on imposing sanctions on a list of some 40 Belarusian officials.

Tikhanovskaya urged EU countries not to recognise Lukashenko as the country's leader when his term ends in November, and to support the opposition's call for new elections.

"We did a lot to manage this situation ourselves, with only the strength of the Belarusian people, now we understand we need exterior help," Tikhanovskaya said, explaining how she thinks EU sanctions would help force Lukashenko into a dialogue on transition.

Talking to MEPs later on Monday, Tikhanovskaya repeated however that the Belarus revolution is neither anti-Russian or pro-Russia, nor pro-EU or anti-EU.

"The Belarus uprising is not a geopolitical revolution," she said.

Tikhanovskaya also urged the EU not to support the current regime financially.

"All the money Lukashenko can get now, it will not go to the state, or the people of Belarus, only [towards] violence and killing innocent people," she said, claiming Lukashenko will run out of money in weeks to pay his security apparatus.

The EU has previously pledged €50m of coronavirus emergency support for the health sector in Belarus, and Tikhanovskaya urged the EU to make sure it reaches hospitals and doctors - not the authorities. She said the opposition was drawing up plans on how to do that.

With an estimated 12,000 people already arrested in Belarus, Tikhanovskaya said many of them had been harassed, tortured, raped or even killed for demanding their freedom.

She called for new elections, the release of political prisoners, and the end to all violence against demonstrators.

"Our people will not give up, […] we have changed forever, and we cannot of back to how it was for 26 years," Tikhanovskaya said referring to Lukashenko's rule since 1994. She warned protests will continue into the winter.

No run for presidency

The 38-year-old Tikhanovskaya became the main opposition candidate in the presidential election, after her husband was arrested following his announcement of his candidature.

After the vote, Tikhanovskaya fled Belarus to Lithuania, under pressure from Belarus authorities.

In Brussels, she told reporters however, if new elections were held, she would not run for the presidency.

She said Belarus would need someone "economically-educated" as president, who could turn the country's economy around.

For now, she said she would stay in Lithuania, as - with the exception of Nobel-prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, who is safeugarded by EU diplomats at her home in Minsk - all the leaders of the opposition movement and council have been either jailed or forced to leave Belarus.

"I want to get back to my country, it is my motherland, my friends and family are there, I want to live there, but I don't feel that me and my children are safe there," she told reporters.

"I can do much more for my country and people here than sitting in a prison cell, but as soon as I see political dialogue start or prisoners released, I will go to Belarus right away," she said.

Cyprus leaves EU ministers red-faced on Belarus

EU foreign ministers will have nothing to show Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya when they meet her in Brussels on Monday, after Cyprus blocked sanctions.

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Cyprus is holding hostage EU sanctions on Belarus in return for a new Turkey blacklist, EU sources said, as Greek and Turkish ministers traded harsh words in the EU parliament.

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