Belarus frees protesters; EU weighs action

Belarusian authorities have released about 1,000 people detained amid demonstrations contesting the results of the presidential election, in an attempt to assuage public anger against a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests and avoid Western sanctions.

At least nine European Union countries and the bloc’s executive arm have called for new sanctions on Belarus ahead of emergency talks among member states on Friday. Any EU decision on sanctions would require unanimity. A final decision is expected later this month.

Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark called in a joint letter for “restrictive measures against officials” responsible for the election result, which gave President Alexander Lukashenko 80%, and for crackdown on protesters.

Germany, Austria and Sweden have already called for sanctions straight away.

Diplomatic sources said the main sceptic was Hungary, which has previously called for all EU sanctions on Minsk to be lifted.

The head of the EU’s executive arm, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted: “We need additional sanctions against those who violated democratic values or abused human rights in Belarus. I am confident today’s … discussion will demonstrate our strong support for the rights of the people in Belarus to fundamental freedoms and democracy.”

The bloc first imposed sanctions on Belarus in 2004. It stepped them up in 2011 over abuses of human rights and democratic standards, including vote rigging. Any new EU sanctions would most likely take the form of travel bans and asset freezes on individuals.

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