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AFP
August 15, 2020

EU gears up to slap sanctions on Belarus

World

AFP
August 15, 2020

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Friday was set to begin the process of imposing sanctions on Belarus and express its support for Greece and Cyprus in their stand-off with Turkey.

Foreign ministers from the 27 member states joined a hastily-arranged video conference hosted by Brussels’ diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, European officials told AFP. Ahead of the meeting, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for sanctions against those who “violated democratic values... and abused human rights” in Belarus.

“I am confident today’s EU Foreign Ministers’ discussion will demonstrate our strong support for the rights of the people in Belarus to fundamental freedoms and democracy,” she tweeted.

In Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Chancellor Angela Merkel had been shocked by the detention and abuse of peaceful protesters. “In our view sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations will have to be discussed,” he said.

The EU has declared the situation in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has launched a crackdown on protests after his disputed re-election, a “matter of grave concern”.But this does not go far enough for many members, especially Belarus’ neighbours Poland and Lithuania, which is now hosting exiled opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania say they are ready to act as mediators to try to resolve the post-election crisis, after a poll that Brussels has said was “neither free nor fair”.But the foreign ministers, who had not been due to meet until August 27 in Berlin, will also consider targeted sanctions, beyond the existing ban on sales to Belarus of arms and equipment that can be used in repression.

Russia has implicitly criticised the EU response, denouncing what its foreign ministry spokeswoman called “clear attempts at outside interference... aimed at causing a split in society and destabilising the situation”.But Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said in a call with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis that Minsk is ready “for a constructive and objective dialogue with foreign partners”.

The soaring tensions in the eastern Mediterranean was to also be high on the agenda, after France dispatched naval vessels and jet fighters to back up Greece and Cyprus. Longstanding tension between Turkey and EU member state Greece escalated when Ankara resumed energy exploration in the region off the Greek island of Kastellorizo on Monday.

Turkey has dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by naval vessels, prompting Greece to send its own ships to the area to monitor Turkey’s work. Brussels will be keen to show a united front at Friday’s talks, but members will be cautious in dealing with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“We’re clearly on course to prepare sanctions against the Lukashenko regime, but it will be more complicated with Turkey,” a European diplomat told AFP. “With Turkey we’ll have to go through a phase of mounting adrenaline to force Erdogan to come to the table.”

Erdogan spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU chief Charles Michel on Thursday and hit out at France’s President Emmanuel Macron, accusing him of “putting on a show”.A European official told AFP that Merkel had warned Erdogan in July that Turkey would face EU sanctions if it drills in Cypriot waters or off the Greek island of Kastellorizo.