The EU held an emergency summit on the crisis, rejecting Lukashenko's re-election in a disputed vote and announcing financial sanctions against officials the bloc blames for election fraud and a cracking down on protests.

European Council President Charles Michel, top of screen, speaks with EU leaders during an EU summit in video conference format at the European Council building in Brussels, August 19, 2020.
European Council President Charles Michel, top of screen, speaks with EU leaders during an EU summit in video conference format at the European Council building in Brussels, August 19, 2020. (AP)

The EU has rejected the result of the disputed Belarus election, saying President Alexander Lukashenko's victory was neither free nor fair, and warned fresh sanctions against his government were imminent.

After an emergency video summit, EU Council President Charles Michel told the people of Belarus the bloc stood "by your side" as unprecedented protests against strongman Lukashenko entered an 11th day.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for national dialogue in Belarus - including Lukashenko, who has ruled for 26 years - to find a peaceful way out of the crisis.

The EU has been working on a new round of sanctions against Belarus, targeting those involved in allegedly fixing the August 9 vote and in the bloody repression of protests, which have shaken Lukashenko's grip on the ex-Soviet republic as never before.

Michel said this would lead "shortly" to "a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression and election fraud" being hit with EU travel bans and asset freezes.

"These elections were neither free nor fair and did not meet international standards. We don't recognise the results presented by the Belarus authorities," Michel told reporters.

"The people of Belarus deserve better. They deserve the democratic right to choose their leaders and shape the future."

Call for dialogue 

Michel, along with Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, all held telephone talks with Lukashenko's close ally Russia to push for dialogue to end the crisis peacefully.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that his country could intervene in the crisis and this week warned against "unacceptable" foreign interference in Belarus or pressure on its leadership.

Merkel told reporters in Berlin "there is no doubt that there were massive rule violations in the election" and said the people of Belarus - sometimes described as "Europe's last dictatorship" - must have the right to choose their future.

"The people in Belarus know what they want… that's why we want an independent path for Belarus where the political conditions are decided by the country itself," she said.

She also revealed that Lukashenko had rebuffed her offer of a phone call. "Mr Lukashenko rejected the telephone call, which I regret. You can only mediate when you are in touch with all sides."

'Violence has to stop'

“Our message is clear. Violence has to stop and a peaceful and inclusive dialogue has to be launched. The leadership of Belarus must reflect the will of the people,” Michel tweeted on Wednesday, minutes after the summit he is chairing got underway.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, also tweeted: “The people of Belarus have the right to a result that accurately reflects their vote. The EU, including the Netherlands, can't accept the results of these elections.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said there was no need for outside mediation over the unrest in Belarus and accused foreign powers of using the crisis to interfere in Belarus.

Lavrov said on Wednesday the statements by European Union countries were driven by geopolitics and that he hoped the Belarusian opposition would be ready to enter into talks with the authorities in Belarus. 

'Fraudulent elections'

The Russian top diplomat's statement came after Belarusian presidential challenger Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged European Union leaders not to recognise what she called fraudulent election results, saying longtime leader Lukashenko had lost all legitimacy.

Tsikhanouskaya was speaking from exile in neighbouring Lithuania before the emergency EU summit.

Tsikhanouskaya said she was the rightful winner of the election and wants new elections to be held under some kind of international supervision.

"I call on you not to recognise these fraudulent elections," Tsikhanouskaya said, speaking in English in a video address. "Mr Lukashenko has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world."

The results of the August 9 polls handed Lukashenko his sixth term with 80 percent of the vote, while the opposition candidate with the most support received 10 percent.

READ MORE: Belarusian president heckled by factory workers as protests continue

Wave of strikes

Lukashenko ordered his police on Wednesday to put down protests in the capital Minsk, signalling an escalation after a week and a half of mass demonstrations against his rule.

Belarus security forces detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs in the first four days of demonstrations. At least two protesters died.

Authorities in Belarus on Wednesday resumed detentions of protesters taking to the streets to demand the resignation of Lukashenko.

Several dozen people were detained in front of the Minsk Tractor Factory, where workers have been on strike since Monday, Sergei Dylevsky, leader of the factory’s strike committee, said. 

Lukashenko is struggling to contain the protests and a wave of strikes that pose the biggest challenge to his 26-year-old hold on power. He denies rigging the election to secure a sixth term.

Attention is firmly focused on how Russia will respond to the biggest political crisis facing an ex-Soviet neighbour since 2014 in Ukraine, when Moscow intervened militarily after a friendly leader was toppled by public protests.

Flight tracking data showed that a Russian government plane used to carry senior government officials, including the head of the FSB security service, had made a quick flight to Belarus and back, landing in Moscow early on Wednesday.

Putin, who has offered Lukashenko military help if needed, spoke by phone to Merkel, Macron and Michel.

He warned Merkel and Macron against foreign meddling in the affairs of Belarus, a close Russian ally that carries Russian energy exports to the West and is viewed by Moscow as a strategic buffer against the EU and NATO.

READ MORE: EU leaders urge Putin to push for talks in Belarus as more workers strike

'Belarus is not Europe'

The EU's Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said the bloc would take into account the nature of Minsk's relationship with Russia.

"Belarus is not Europe, it is on border of Europe, between Europe and Russia, and the situation is not comparable to Ukraine or Georgia. 

Belarus is really strongly connected with Russia and the majority of the population is favourable to close links with Russia," he said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde has offered to visit Minsk in her role as incoming chair of the OSCE, a security body that includes both Western countries and former Soviet states, and often mediates in the region.

Linde said she had spoken with Tsikhanouskaya who was "very positive" in her reaction to the offer of mediation by the OSCE.

The protests have spread to some of the country's major industrial plants that underpin Lukashenko's Soviet-style economic model. 

Local media reported that security forces had taken control of a 19th century theatre in Minsk that became a flashpoint for protests after its director, a former Belarusian diplomat, was fired after speaking out in favour of the protests.

READ MORE: Belarus opposition head says she's ready to lead the nation

Poland's PM says no reason to worry about situation at border 

There is no reason to be concerned by the situation at Poland's border with Belarus, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday following European Union talks on the crisis in the former Soviet republic.

Lukashenko ordered border controls on Wednesday to be tightened to prevent an influx of "fighters and arms".

Earlier this week Russia's RIA news agency said Belarus's army plans to hold drills on August 17-20 in the Grodno region bordering Poland and Lithuania, which are both NATO members. Lukashenko also said an air assault brigade would move to Belarus's western border.

"As part of normal, routine actions we are looking at what is happening beyond our border and at the moment there are no reasons for concern," Morawiecki told a news conference.

No external intervention can be allowed in Belarus, Morawiecki added, in an apparent reference to Russia, from which Lukashenko has requested military help and which is likely to play a decisive role in how the crisis plays out.

Of all the former Soviet republics, Belarus has by far the closest economic, cultural and political ties to Russia, and its territory is central to Russia's defence strategy.

Russian oil exports run through Belarus to Poland and to the West and Moscow has long regarded Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO.

Morawiecki said the EU should offer Belarus an alternative to its economic ties with Russia.

"Belarus is very much dependent economically on Russia... What I mean is working out certain mechanisms whereby this dependence becomes smaller," Morawiecki said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies