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Belarus: EU agrees sanctions on 40 officials but not Lukashenko

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By Alice Tidey
EU Council President Charles Michel (L) and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during an EU Council summit on  Oct. 1, 2020.
EU Council President Charles Michel (L) and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during an EU Council summit on Oct. 1, 2020.   -   Copyright  Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP

European Union leaders agreed on Friday to impose sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials over the rigging of the presidential election but leave off President Alexander Lukashenko.

"Tomorrow we will implement the sanctions and you know that what's on the table is a list of about forty names," EU Council President Charles Michel said during a press conference in the early hours of Friday morning.

Belarus retaliated hours later by slapping sanctions on EU officials but said the list would not be made public.

Brussels rejected the official results of the August 9 presidential election which credited Lukashenko — in power for 26 years — with over 80 per cent of the vote and condemned the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.

Bloc chiefs said at the time that they would "swiftly" impose restrictive measures on the officials involved in the falsification of the results and the subsequent repression but foreign ministers failed to agree on a list of sanctions last month because of a veto by Cyprus. The Mediterranean island wanted the bloc to take a stronger stance against Turkey over its underwater drilling.

Michel told reporters that the sanctions agreed on by leaders is "a clear signal. It's very important to do what we had decided a few weeks ago. It needs to be concrete."

He confirmed that Lukashenko — sometimes referred to Europe's last dictator — "is not on the current list but of course, we will follow the situation."

"We will follow the developments and you know that we are in favour of an inclusive dialogue on Belarus."

"And we repeat that the people of Belarus have the right to determine their own future. Its also our intention to continue to develop efforts in order to support the important values such as freedom of the press, the freedom of speech and civil society," he added.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared that she was "very happy that there is now finally a way forward on sanctions."

"There will be no impunity for those who are responsible for the crackdown on demonstrators and opposition politicians," she added.

The Cyprus veto on Belarusian sanctions was overcome with EU leaders reaffirming their "full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, whose sovereignty and sovereign rights must be respected" and pledging to impose sanctions against Turkey by December at the latest if talks with Ankara yield no results.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry accused the EU of "striving towards the deterioration of relations with us" and imposed its own set of sanctions against the bloc.

"Belarus is always in words and in fact against confrontation. We are for dialogue and understanding. But as a sovereign state, we are also determined, albeit not without regret, to respond to unfriendly actions in order to naturally protect our national interests," it added.