Belarus opposition leader urges international sanctions

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The main opposition challenger in Belarus’ disputed presidential election urged the international community on Friday to impose sanctions on “the individuals that committed electoral violations and crimes against humanity” and take other measures to stop the violence against protesters.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told the U.N. Security Council that Alexander Lukashenko, who claimed victory in the Aug. 9 election, engaged in a “cynical and blatant attempt … to steal the votes of the people” and “does not represent Belarus anymore.”

“A nation should not be a hostage to one man’s thirst for power, and it won’t,” she said. “Belarussians have woken up. The point of no return has passed.”

Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania under pressure from Belarus authorities after the election, called Lukashenko “the one obstacle” to meeting the demands of the people: “immediate termination of violence and threats by the regime, immediate release of all political prisoners, and free and fair election.”

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Lukashenko, who has run the nation of 9.5 million people with an iron fist for 26 years, has dismissed the demonstrators, who have turned out en masse for nearly four weeks to protest the official election results that gave him a sixth term with 80% of the vote, as Western puppets.

During the first few days, police detained nearly 7,000 people and beat hundreds, drawing international outrage and causing anti-government demonstrations to swell. The government has since shifted tactics, seeking to squelch protests with threats, the selective detention of protesters and the prosecution of activists.

Tsikhanouskaya accused Lukashenko of “desperately clinging on to power and refusing to listen to his people and his own state officials,” calling his regime “morally bankrupt, legally questionable and simply untenable in the eyes of our nation.”

Recalling that Belarus was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945, she said its people now need U.N. help “to stop blatant human rights violations and cynical disregard for human dignity right in the middle of Europe.”

In addition to urging the international community to use “all mechanisms” including sanctions to stop the violence, Tsikhanouskaya called for a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council to discuss rights violations in Belarus and urged the U.N. to immediately send an “international monitoring mission” to the country to document the situation on the ground.

She also demanded entry and free movement for the U.N. special investigator on human rights, an end to attacks and arrests of protesters, the immediate release of all political prisoners and an end to the intimidation and targeting of members of the Coordination Council, which she formed to organize a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from Lukashenko.

“I want to make it very clear, collaboration with the regime of Mr. Lukashenko at the moment means the support for violence and blatant violation of human rights,” she said.

The opposition leader said, “We are ready and open to a dialogue with all sides, all parties and all countries that respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Belarus.”

The United States and the European Union have criticized the Aug. 9 presidential election as neither free nor fair and urged Belarusian authorities to engage in a dialogue with the opposition, a demand Lukashenko has dismissed.

Facing Western criticism, the Belarusian leader has sought to secure support from Russia, which has a union agreement with Belarus envisaging close political, economic and military ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is ready to send police to Belarus at Lukashenko’s request if the demonstrations turn violent.

During Friday’s meeting, organized by Estonia which is serving a two-year term on the Security Council, Russia and China opposed any internal interference in Belarus’ affairs while Western nations and former Soviet bloc countries including Romania, Poland and Ukraine urged an end to violence by security forces and a political dialogue.

As the virtual meeting was taking place, hundreds of messages appeared in the chat box, almost all backing Tsikhanouskaya, many calling her “president of the Republic of Belarus.”

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