Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei Foreign dismissed Western countries' protest crackdown complaints as "nothing but attempts to bring chaos and anarchy" to Belarus.
Belarus' foreign minister has warned Western nations against imposing sanctions over the country's disputed presidential election and crackdown on protesters, saying their expressions of concern are “nothing but attempts to bring chaos and anarchy to our country.”
With the European Union and Britain contemplating sanctions, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei told the virtual UN General Assembly meeting of world leaders that “interference in our internal affairs, sanctions and other restrictions on Belarus will have the opposite effect and are harmful for absolutely everyone.”
Makei's speech was played hours after the latest in a series of large protests in Belarus over the August 9 re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, which his opponents say was rigged.
The authoritarian leader further angered opponents this week by taking the oath of office for a new term in an unexpected and secretive ceremony.
The demonstrations are by far the largest and most persistent in Belarus since its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
The EU is pondering sanctions for top Belarusian officials, but it failed to agree on imposing them this week and plans to continue discussions in the coming week.
Cyprus has been blocking approval until the group agrees similar measures against Turkey over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, Britain said on Thursday it was working on sanctions and also was in discussions with the US and Canada.
Baltic EU states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have expanded their own sanctions against Belarus.
“We call on our partners to demonstrate wisdom, restraint and impartiality,” said Makei in a pre-recorded speech for the UN session held online because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Crackdown on protests
Makei's remarks to the international community, which included saying “the people made their choice” in the election, could fuel further protests on Sunday.
The rallies are typically largest on Sundays, sometimes drawing crowds of up to 200,000 people.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Belarus since August 9 elections which opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she won, despite Lukashenko's insistence he took a landslide victory.
In the first three days of demonstrations in August, police used tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
Several protesters died, many were injured and around 6,000 were detained.
Last week, the UN's Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for an investigation into possible human rights violations by Lukashenko’s government, with a report to come by the end of the year.
Amid international outrage over the crackdown, Belarusian authorities switched to prosecuting top activists.
Many members of the Coordination Council, a group that the opposition formed to push for a transition of power, have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
Fresh protests were sparked by the surprise announcement on Wednesday that Lukashenko had been sworn in for a sixth term in office.
The EU said the strongman's inauguration lacked "democratic legitimacy" and refused to recognise him as president.
The bloc has said it is reviewing relations with Belarus, with the issue to be debated at an EU summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels.
'Courage of the protestors'
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that Belarus's leader Alexander Lukashenko must step down, after the EU refused to recognise him as the legitimate president of the ex-Soviet country.
"It's clear he has to go," Macron told French weekly the Journal du Dimanche ahead of a trip to EU states Lithuania and Latvia, which border Belarus.
"It is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power that cannot accept the logic of democracy and which is hanging on by force. It is clear that Lukashenko has to go."
Macron on Sunday said he had been "impressed by the courage of the protesters".
"They know the risks they are taking by demonstrating every weekend, and yet, they are pushing forward with the movement to make democracy come alive in this country that has been deprived of it for so long," he said.
'Women command our respect'
"Women in particular, who march every Saturday, command our respect," he added.
More than 90 people — most of them women — were arrested on Saturday at opposition rallies, according to one NGO.
Macron sets off on Monday for his first visit to Lithuania and Latvia, which are hoping for French support in the face of the Belarus crisis and rising tensions with Russia. He has not ruled out a meeting with Belarusian opposition leader Tikhanovskaya, who has taken shelter in Lithuania.
Inclusive national dialogue
EU Council President Charles Michel told the General Assembly on Friday in his own video speech that “repression and intimidation must stop” and those responsible must be held accountable.
“We stand with the Belarusian people who must be free, without any external coercion, to choose their own future,” Michel said, calling for inclusive national dialogue facilitated by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Lukashenko has bristled at suggestions of starting a dialogue with the opposition and has cast the protests as part of a Western plot to isolate Russia, Belarus’ main sponsor and ally.
Makei said the situation in Belarus “indeed has become complex,” but he dismissed Western countries' complaints as meddling “statements brimming with cynicism.”
“In actual fact, they are nothing but attempts to bring chaos and anarchy to our country to make Belarus lose many years of development,” the foreign minister said.
Russia is Lukashenko's biggest financial and diplomatic backer, and President Vladimir Putin has promised Belarus law enforcement backup if needed, as well as a $1.5-billion loan.
Macron told the Journal he spoke to Putin on September 14, when the Russian leader was hosting Lukashenko at his residence in the Black Sea city of Sochi for one-to-one talks.
"I told him that Russia has a role to play, and this role can be positive, if he pushes Lukashenko to respect the legitimacy of the ballot box and free political prisoners," Macron said.
"That was 15 days ago, and we are not yet there," he added.
At the Sochi talks, Lukashenko vowed to stick closer with "elder brother" Moscow. Putin has long urged full unification between Russia and Belarus, while Lukashenko has so far ruled this out.