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8th May 2021

EU pays tribute to Belarus 'revolutionaries'

  • Women have played a prominent role in the months-long street protests (Photo: Daria Buryakina for tut.by)

Top EU officials tried to boost Belarusian opposition morale by handing Europe's annual human rights award, the Sakharov prize, to one of their leaders-in-exile, Svetlana Tikhanvoskaya, in Brussels on Wednesday (16 December).

"Your cause and strength of spirit has shown the way to revolution ... and we pay tribute to you," European Parliament (EP) David Sassoli said in a speech.

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"We're fully aware of what's going on in your country ... we see the deplorable abuses and we see the violence," he added.

"In the EU, it is our moral duty to support them [Belarusian protesters]," he said.

Tikhanvoskaya herself, whose husband, also an activist, is in prison in Belarus, highlighted some of the regime's crimes.

She spoke of one unarmed man who was shot dead in the street and of a second one who was "kidnapped and beaten to death in a police station".

"Detainees [in police custody] are marked by colours to determine how severely they should be beaten", she said.

Police were also "deliberately infecting people with Covid-19," Tikhanvoskaya said.

"We call on Europe to be braver in her decisions and to support the people of Belarus now, not tomorrow," she added.

"This is not interference [in Belarus], but the duty of every self-respecting country," she said, alluding to Belarus regime propaganda on Western conspiracies.

Tikhanvoskaya spoke after the 19th weekend in a row of street protests, riot-police attacks, and mass detentions in Belarus following rigged elections in August.

At least seven people have been killed and thousands are being held behind bars, some on long sentences.

The EU has blacklisted 55 Belarusian officials, including president Alexander Lukashenko.

It is also preparing visa-bans and asset-freezes on oligarchs who feed him money in its next round of sanctions, due in mid-December.

Meanwhile, the EP building in the EU capital displayed photos on its facade of Belarusian women confronting riot squads to mark its Sakharov award.

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and senior MEPs, such as German conservative Manfred Weber, came to hear Tikhanvoskaya speak and posed for photos.

Some MEPs took selfies with Tikhanvoskaya, in a sign of how well-known the former housewife-turned-politician has become internationally.

Tikhanvoskaya also met with EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, whose job it is to draft sanctions proposals.

They "exchanged assessments of the current situation in Belarus", Borrell's office said in a statement.

And Borrell's services were "in the process of finalising additional sanctions, which will target both individuals and entities," it confirmed.

Wednesday marked the third time in the past 16 years that the EU gave its Sakharov award to Belarusian activists, indicating the longevity of Lukashenko's regime, who first took power in 1994.

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