The 27 EU foreign ministers agreed to task their foreign policy unit with preparing a list of individuals to be blacklisted.
European Union ministers have agreed to draw up a list of targets in Belarus for a new round of sanctions in response to strongman Alexander Lukashenko's post-election crackdown.
"The foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on those responsible for the repression and a list of names will be drawn up," a European official said, after the ministers' videoconference on Friday.
Demonstrators have swarmed the streets ever since Sunday’s election in which officials reported that President Alexander Lukashenko won 80 percent of the vote to extend his 26-year authoritarian hold on power in Belarus.
The protests continued on Friday as thousands again rallied across the country and Lukashenko’s main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled on Tuesday to neighbouring Lithuania, posted a video in which she disputed the results of the vote and demanded that the government start a dialogue with demonstrators.
#Belarus. Happening right now. Thousands of demonstrators are marching on the main street in #Minsk. Workers of MTZ, Minsk Tractor Works, who announced strike, joined street protesters. Last time something like this happened 30 years ago. pic.twitter.com/fhRGB5uFHa— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) August 14, 2020
Violence on streets
Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured since Sunday as police have ferociously dispersed the largely peaceful demonstrations with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings. At least one person has been killed.
Thousands of factory workers who previously formed the core of Lukashenko's base have joined the protests, denouncing the police crackdown and demanding a new election, raising the prospect of a nationwide strike.
“Our entire shop voted against Lukashenko and then we suddenly learned that he won by a landslide,” 42-year-old assembly worker Dmitry Glukhovsky said outside the Minsk Automobile Plant, or MAZ. “They not only have cheated us but also beaten us up, and no one is going to accept that.”
He said that his assembly shop went on strike on Friday to demand a new election. More than 1,000 workers could be seen in the factory's yard, shouting “Down!” in a call for Lukashenko to resign.
Another factory worker, 45-year-old electrician Viktor Konovalov, said a friend was detained during the crackdown.
“People will not forgive that,” he said. “We don't need their excuses, we need a new election and a new government.
At the Minsk Tractor Plant, or MTZ, about 1,000 workers also rallied to demand Lukashenko's resignation and then marched toward the government headquarters. As they reached the centre of the capital, the crowds grew and people stood applauding and motorists honked in support.
Workers also rallied at many other major factories in an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” for his relentless suppression of dissent.
#Belarus Another game changer. A massive rally of employees of the High Technologies Park, the Belarusian Silicon Valley.Hundreds of small and large enterprises are striking. Tens of thousands people are on the streets across the country right now. People are literally everywhere pic.twitter.com/CIITVPTMgm— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) August 14, 2020
The Belarusian Interior Ministry said earlier on Friday than more than 2,000 people who were detained during the protests have been released.
The ministry said it was concerned by the problem of overcrowding in detention centres after around 6,700 people were detained in the crackdown.
The Belarusian leadership began releasing detained protesters after issuing a rare public apology in an effort to quell the nationwide street protests.
Warning against strikes
Clearly nervous, the Belarusian leader warned on Friday that the strikes would deepen the damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic and could lead to Belarus losing its niche in global markets.
“Everyone is fighting for markets, and if we stop we will never be able to resume production,” he said. “You must explain it to the people.”
After a violent crackdown, police stood back on Thursday as thousands of people formed ”lines of solidarity” in Minsk and other cities. Women, many of them dressed in white and carrying flowers and portraits of detained loved ones, spearheaded the human chains as motorists honked in support. Authorities again didn't interfere with the demonstrations on Friday.
Dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they dumped their uniforms in the trash.
Opposition called for end of protests
The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders. Tsikhanouskaya urged her supporters to stop protests in an earlier video that her associates said was recorded under pressure from law enforcement officials while she was still in Minsk. The 37-year-old former teacher had joined the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been jailed since May.
In her new video released on Friday, Tsikhanouskaya again challenged the election results, saying that copies of protocols from precincts where the vote was counted fairly show her winning 60 percent to 70 percent. She urged the government to end violence and engage in dialogue with protesters.
“The Belarusians will never want to live under the current government,” she said. “The authorities have turned peaceful demonstrations into a bloodbath.”
She also announced she was setting up a coordination council to help ensure a "peaceful transition of power.”
A protester died Monday in Minsk when, according to the Interior Ministry, an explosive device he tried to throw at police blew up in his hand. Media reports challenged the ministry's claim, alleging he was killed by police. The place where he died was quickly turned into a shrine, with hundreds of people, including European ambassadors, laying flowers there.
The authorities also said a detainee died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances weren’t immediately clear.
The brutal suppression of protests drew harsh criticism in the West.
Ahead of the meeting of EU foreign ministers to discuss sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for the crackdown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin that the peaceful protests “reflect the dissatisfaction, the anger and the desperation” of people in Belarus and that the crackdown was “completely unacceptable.”
To try to ease Western criticism, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said in a phone call with his Swiss counterpart that the country is ready for a “constructive and objective dialogue” with foreign partners on all issues related to the election and subsequent events.