The United Kingdom is preparing sanctions on individuals allegedly involved in human rights violations in Belarus, working with the United States and Canada to hold President Alexander Lukashenko and his government accountable.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons in London on Thursday in light of the European Union’s delay in preparing its own sanctions, the UK would join other allies to adopt targeted sanctions against those responsible for human rights abuses.
“We will apply all the tools at our disposal to hold Lukashenko and his regime to account,” he said.
Thousands of Belarusians took to the streets of the capital, Minsk, and other cities on Wednesday evening, protesting the unannounced inauguration of Lukashenko that took place in the morning.
Police fiercely dispersed the crowds – in Minsk, officers used truncheons and water cannon, leaving dozens injured. More than 360 protesters were arrested.
Protests in Belarus continued on Thursday, part of nearly seven weeks of rallies against the authoritarian leader’s re-election, which the opposition says was rigged.
“We are willing to join the EU in adopting targeted sanctions against those responsible for the violence, the repression and the vote-rigging, although the EU process has now been delayed in Brussels,” Raab said. “Given that delay … we’re coordinating with the United States and Canada to prepare appropriate listings as a matter of urgency.”
The EU said on Thursday the swearing-in of Lukashenko to a sixth term lacks democratic legitimacy, defies the will of the Belarusian people and will only deepen the country’s political crisis.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reiterated the 27-nation bloc did not recognise the result of the August 9 election that kept Lukashenko in power after 26 years.
“This ‘inauguration’ directly contradicts the will of large parts of the Belarusian population, as expressed in numerous, unprecedented and peaceful protests since the elections, and serves to only further deepen the political crisis in Belarus,” Borrell said.
Borrell underlined the EU’s belief that “Belarusian citizens deserve the right to be represented by those they freely choose through new inclusive, transparent and credible elections”. He praised their courage.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers failed to impose sanctions on Belarus officials suspected of election fraud or of playing a part in a brutal security crackdown on the post-election protests, despite appeals from Lukashenko’s main opponent to take courageous action against his regime.
Cyprus continues to block the sanctions until similar measures are slapped on Turkey for its disputed energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. EU leaders will try to break the deadlock when they meet in Brussels on October 1.
In an email to The Associated Press news agency on Thursday, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said: “Lukashenko does not belong in a presidential palace. He belongs on the EU sanctions list.”
“The secrecy surrounding his inauguration ceremony just illustrates that he has not been sworn in based on free and fair elections, but on election fraud and violence,” Kofod said.