The European Union has agreed to prepare fresh sanctions against Belarus and Russia as the bloc ramps up pressure on its eastern neighbors over human rights abuses and lack of democracy.
Meeting in Luxembourg on October 12, foreign ministers from the EU's 27 members reiterated that Belarus's August election was "neither free nor fair" and threatened to slap restrictive measures on Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the country's autocratic leader, saying he "lacks any democratic legitimacy."
The ministers also backed a proposal pushed by Paris and Berlin to impose sanctions on Russians suspected of being involved in the poisoning of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny in August that nearly took his life.
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"The [EU] Council strongly condemns the violence employed by the Belarusian authorities against peaceful protesters and calls for the release of all arbitrarily detained persons, including political prisoners," the bloc said in a statement noting the country's "fraudulent" presidential election and subsequent "violent" crackdown on demonstrators protesting against it and media covering the events.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the ministers had given a "political green light" to prepare a new sanctions package that will include Lukashenka himself.
Earlier this month, the bloc agreed to impose visa bans and asset freezes on 40 Belarusian officials for their alleged role in the repression of protesters and the opposition, as well as fraud during the vote.
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