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US ready with new Belarus sanctions in ‘days’

Opposition supporters rally to protest against disputed presidential election results in Minsk on August 30, 2020 - - / ©AFP
Opposition supporters rally to protest against disputed presidential election results in Minsk on August 30, 2020 - - / ©AFP

(AFP)

The United States said Friday it would impose new sanctions on Belarusian figures within days as it urged Minsk and its ally Russia to end a crackdown on protests.

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the United States was coordinating with the European Union and looking to target both individuals and export rules.

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“I expect in just a few short days we will be in a position to be able to definitively identify the additional list of sanctions that we will be imposing in parallel with those that are being enacted by the European Union,” Biegun told reporters by telephone.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier hinted at new sanctions on Belarus as strongman Alexander Lukashenko clamps down on the biggest challenge to his 26-year rule.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets since August 9 elections which opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she won, despite Lukashenko’s insistence he won a landslide victory.

Biegun last month showed support for Tikhanovskaya in a meeting in Lithuania, where she has fled.

Biegun said that the United States backed her demands for “truly free and fair presidential elections, the release of all political prisoners and the investigation of the authorities crimes against the people.”

Lukashenko on Monday will pay his first visit since the crisis to Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin has staunchly backed him and spoken of closer integration.

Biegun asked how Russia “can back such a regime and such violence against peaceful citizens exercising constitutionally protected rights to freedom of assembly, association and speech.”

“If the Kremlin continues down this path, it risks turning the Belarusian people, who have no grievance with Russia, against Moscow.”

Despite Biegun’s hope of coordination with the European Union, sources say that a push within the bloc for new sanctions on Belarus has been held up by Cyprus.

The Mediterranean island nation, which Pompeo will visit Saturday, wants similar measures against Turkey over its contested natural gas exploration.

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