Standing by protesters, EU to hold emergency Belarus talks

European Union leaders will hold an emergency video conference about a deepening political crisis in Belarus, bloc officials have said, expressing support for a protest movement rallying against the disputed re-election of longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.

The EU has agreed to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials it deems responsible for alleged election fraud and a violent crackdown on mass protests that followed an August 9 vote in which the official count gave Lukashenko 80 percent of the vote. His opponents say the election was rigged.

“The people of Belarus have the right to decide on their future and freely elect their leader,” said Charles Michel, president of the European Council, which represents the 27 national governments, in announcing Wednesday’s video conference.

“Violence against protesters is unacceptable and cannot be allowed.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, welcomed the upcoming talks, writing on Twitter: “The people of Belarus need to know that the EU stands by them firmly, and that those responsible for human rights violations and for violence will be sanctioned.”

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, also called on Monday for a “thorough and transparent investigation” into the reports of abuse and mistreatment of thousands of protesters.

Describing a huge protest in the capital, Minsk, on Sunday as “the largest rally in Belarusian modern history”, Borrell said, “The sheer numbers clearly show that the Belarusian population wants change, and wants it now. The EU stands by them.”

A senior EU official, speaking to Reuters News Agency on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday’s gathering would also send a message to Russia not to meddle in the former Soviet republic. Lukashenko has accused Belarus’s EU neighbours of interfering and has said Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered “comprehensive help” to “ensure the security of Belarus” if needed.

“The way out of the crisis is through an end to violence, through de-escalation, through dialogue and without outside interference,” said the official, without naming Russia.

The EU does not see Russian military intervention in Belarus, a landlocked country of 9.5 million, as a likely scenario for now, according to diplomats.

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