EU foreign ministers agree on Belarus sanctions

The EU is set to impose new sanctions targeting Belarusian officials responsible for the brutal crackdown in the ex-Soviet state, Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters on Friday after video talks held by EU foreign ministers. The top diplomats from the bloc's 27 Member States met to review former restrictions against Belarus party leadership that the EU removed in 2016, citing progress in improving the rule of law.

The 27 EU foreign ministers agreed to task their foreign policy unit with preparing a list of Belarusian officials to be hit with sanctions following the post-election mass arrests of demonstrators. Мааs slammed the post-electoral unrest as "completely unacceptable."

"We aim to put certain persons who are known and took part in crimes against peaceful protests under the EU sanctions regime," he said.

The targets and the scope of the measures have yet to be determined. A European official said that "a list of names will be drawn up."

The sanctions had targeted arms companies, frozen assets and implemented travel bans.

The video talks were called after a controversial election win for President Alexander Lukashenko and days of violence against anti-government protesters.

Maas' comments on sanctions echo those made by a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the talks.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted earlier Friday that additional sanctions were needed against "those who violated democratic values or abused human rights in Belarus."

"I am confident today’s EU Foreign Ministers' discussion will demonstrate our strong support for the rights of the people in Belarus to fundamental freedoms & democracy," she wrote.

Protests against the government in Belarus have seen at least 6,700 people arrested, dozens injured and two killed, since they began on Sunday evening. The government on Friday began releasing detainees, bowing to EU pressure. The demonstrations were sparked by the reelection of Lukashenko for his sixth term in office with 80% of the vote. He has held the presidential position since the role was created in 1994. His opponents have claimed that the result was rigged. The EU criticized the vote as "neither free nor fair."

Joerg Forbrig, the director for Central and Eastern Europe for the German Marshall Fund think tank, told DW that he expects the "end is nigh" for Lukashenko.

"We see strikes and a mass movement that has one central demand: for him to go," Forbrig said, adding that the important thing to watch is whether the transition away from Lukashenko will be peaceful.

Although Forbrig said he doesn't expect Lukashenko to be in power long enough for sanctions to have a direct effect on him, they nevertheless would serve as an important sign of solidarity with the Belarusian people from the EU.

"These are European values that are being trampled by the regime in a neighboring country," he added.

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