The leaders of the 27 EU countries are set to discuss ways to address the Belarus crisis on Wednesday as huge protests continue in the former Soviet state following this month’s disputed election.
On Friday EU ministers unanimously agreed on initiating the process for sanctions against Belarusian individuals who are involved in human rights abuses and election fraud. These sanctions will likely be the subject of discussion in the online meeting of leaders on Wednesday.
Protests broke out in the Eastern European country more than a week ago after the election. Thousands of protesters have been arrested, with many of those freed claiming having been mistreated in detention.
President Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed the last dictator in Europe, claimed a landslide victory of over 80 per cent of the votes, but election observers have criticized the poll counting as rigged.
His main rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled to neighbouring Lithuania. From exile, she has called for protests to continue.
The EU leaders might on Wednesday also discuss the possibilities of brokering political dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties.
The European Union has stressed the need for meaningful dialogue. It considers the elections in Belarus earlier this month neither free nor fair.
In his invitation letter, EU Council chief Charles Michel also warned of outside interference in a likely nod to Belarus-ally Russia.
Several EU countries – including all three Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – have called for new elections in Belarus.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to give a statement following the meeting. She has stressed that the Belarusian government must put an end to violence against peaceful protesters and release all political prisoners.