US, EU, Canada and UK impose sanctions on Belarus | Human rights news

The United States, the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom have imposed sweeping sanctions on Belarusian entities and officials and called on Minsk “to end its repressive practices against its own people”.

The allies have also called on President Alexander Lukashenko’s administration to cooperate with the investigations into the forced landing of a Ryanair flight there in May and the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who were on board.

“We are united in our deep concern over the Lukashenko regime’s continued attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms and international law,” the four said in a joint statement on Monday.

“We are committed to supporting the long suppressed democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people and we unite to make the regime pay for its blatant disregard for international commitments,” they said.

The coordinated action reflects the West’s growing frustration with Belarus, which plunged into crisis last year when street protests erupted against what protesters called a rigged presidential election.

There was no immediate reaction from Lukashenko who has so far weathered the storm with a crackdown, denied rigging the vote and accused journalist Roman Protasevich of plotting a revolution.

The veteran leader has increasingly turned to Russia for support.

The four called on Minsk to cooperate with an international investigation into the plane incident, immediately release all political prisoners and “engage in a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue” with the democratic opposition and civil society.

“Tighten the wing screws”

The EU said it was imposing travel bans and asset freezes on 78 officials – including Belarus’ defense minister and transport minister, its air force commander, judges and legislators – as well as entities, which are usually companies, banks or associations. This means that a total of 166 people and 15 entities are now subject to restrictive EU measures.

At a meeting in Luxembourg, the bloc said it was also preparing economic sanctions which Austria said would “tighten the wing screws” on the Belarusian government.

“This decision was taken in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, the democratic opposition and journalists,” said a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting, said the economic sanctions “will seriously damage Belarus’ economy”.

EU states are also expected to impose economic sanctions on Belarus’ financial, oil, tobacco and potash sectors soon after an interim deal was reached on Friday.

Last year, the EU imported 1.2 billion euros ($ 1.5 billion) of chemicals, including potash, from Belarus, as well as more than one billion euros (1 , $ 2 billion) of crude oil and related products such as fuel and lubricants. Belarus also relies on loans from European commercial and development banks.

The bloc will ban exports to Belarus of any communications equipment that could be used for espionage and tighten the arms embargo to include rifles used by biathletes, officials said.

Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya welcomed the announcements. “The European Union has decided that it deserves these sanctions,” Tsikhanouskaya told reporters in Brussels. “I agree… We have to end the situation in our country, we don’t want it to become North Korea.”

At the same time, the US Treasury Department said in a statement it had blacklisted 16 people and five entities in response to the Lukashenko government’s “escalation of violence and repression”, including the landing forced theft.

The US action targeted Lukashenko’s relatives, the Treasury said, including his press secretary and the President of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly, the upper house of the Belarusian parliament.

“Cut the flow of oil export revenues”

The UK has said it has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on “senior officials”, as well as the oil company BNK (UK) Ltd.

“The sanctions send a strong signal to Belarusian authorities that the UK will not allow those who clamp down on human rights to come to the UK or use our financial institutions,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

Britain said its sanctions were imposed separately on the EU, which it left last year, but alongside those announced by Washington, Ottawa and Brussels.

The British Foreign Office said the restrictions on BNK (UK) Ltd, which exports Belarusian petroleum products, “would have a significant impact on one of the regime’s main sources of income.”

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said: “The Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of airline passengers and crew in a shameful ruse to snatch Roman Protasevich.

“We will hold the regime to account in coordination with our allies, including by further banning travel, freezing assets and cutting off the flow of oil export revenues.”

In September last year, the UK announced sanctions on human rights grounds against Lukashenko, his son and senior Belarusian government officials.

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