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Germany backs Belarus sanctions ahead of EU meeting

Germany backs Belarus sanctions ahead of EU meeting

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said that the violent post-election crackdown in Belarus was "unacceptable" and that Merkel had been "shocked" by the detention and abuse of peaceful protesters.

"In our view sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations will have to be discussed," spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted 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," von der Leyen tweeted.

The statements from some of Europe's top leaders come ahead of special meeting of the EU's foreign ministers later Friday to discuss potential sanctions on Belarus.

The top diplomats from EU countries are planning to review former restrictions against Belarus party leadership that the EU removed in 2016, citing progress in improving the rule of law. The sanctions had targeted arms companies, froze assets and implemented travel bans.

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

Deadly post-election protests

Protests against the government in Belarus have seen at least 6,700 people detained, 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 President 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."

Read more: Optimism for Belarus 'is now gone' — Norway's top diplomat

'He is a dictator'

Several EU foreign ministers came out in favor of sanctions ahead of Friday's extraordinary session.

The topic of sanctions will be "intensely" debated, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Maas said he hoped ministers would reach a joint position.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn called for the election to be repeated in addition to new sanctions, targeting Belarus' top officials: "I believe what is taking place in the country is state terrorism," he told German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

"It's a brutal course of action against the rules and against the law of a free society. He is a dictator," added Asselborn.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Lithuania's foreign ministry also joined the call for sanctions to be reimplemented against Belarus' leadership.

However, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto cautioned against spoiling relations between Belarus and the EU.

Turkey on the agenda

Second on the agenda for the EU foreign minsters is the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions have flared up over the past months over Turkey's exploration for hydrocarbon resources, with both the EU and Greece claiming drilling in the region is illegal.

The EU has hinted at sanctions in the past if Turkey does not cease the operations.

On Friday, Germany called for "de-escalation" between Greece and Turkey.

These tensions are worrying," German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said, calling on both sides "to talk directly to each other" to resolve their maritime dispute.

The EU ministers are also set to discuss last week's explosion in Beirut that saw hundreds of people killed and forced the current cabinet to resign.

This is an updated version of a previous article

wmr,kmm/rt (AFP, Reuters)