European Union leaders are set to tighten sanctions against Belarus at an emergency video conference as the country’s opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya appealed to the bloc to not recognise what she said were fraudulent presidential elections.
- EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said the Belarus election outcome was “not in line with the wish of the people”
- He said aid from a 750 billion euro European coronavirus recovery package would be conditional on respect for the rule of law
- The EU will also hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Belarus
Election officials declared Alexander Lukashenko, who has been president of Belarus for 26 years, had again won office on August 10 a day after the poll.
Since then, thousands have taken to the streets to protest what they claim was a corrupt election.
Officials had denied two prominent opposition challengers places on the ballot, jailing one on charges he called political and prompting the other to flee to Russia with his children.
But earlier this week, Mr Lukashenko was booed off stage by angry workers while visiting a factory in the capital Minsk to rally support for his crumbling leadership.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya said she was ready to lead Belarus if Mr Lukashenko stood down.
In a video recorded while in exile in Lithuania, she said Mr Lukashenko had “lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world”.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya says she was the rightful winner of the election and wants new elections to be held under international supervision.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has offered Lukashenko military help if needed, spoke by phone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday.
He warned Ms Merkel and Mr Macron against meddling in the affairs of Belarus.
But EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said before the bloc’s meeting on Wednesday (local time) it was “clear that [the outcome of the Belarus presidential election] is not in line with the wish of the people”.
“There has been unacceptable violence, and the rule of law is not respected,” he said.
“Sanctions have already been taken and will no doubt be reinforced this afternoon.”
He added that talks with Mr Putin would take into account the nature of Belarus’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,” Mr Breton said.
“Belarus is really strongly connected with Russia and the majority of the population is favourable to close links with Russia.”
Mr Breton also said that aid within a 750 billion euro European coronavirus recovery package would be conditional on respect for the rule of law in member states.
“Every six months we verify whether countries respect a certain number of criteria, notably the rule of law,” he said.
“The decision to provide funds [as part of the recovery plan] will be conditioned on respect for these criteria.”
He added that talks about this issue are ongoing with a number of countries, including Hungary.
Breton also said that following the military coup in Mali, the European Union would push for a democratic process that respected the constitution, adding that there must be elections within a reasonable timeframe.