*

EU to blacklist up to 20 Belarus officials to press leader

The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on up to 20 senior Belarus officials suspected of election fraud and the crackdown on protesters and is likely to put President Alexander Lukashenko on its list at some point, the bloc’s foreign ministers said Friday.

Belarus’ authoritarian president of 26 years has faced weeks of protests since he was reelected to a sixth term on Aug. 9 with 80% of the vote. The opposition says the poll was rigged and the EU, among others, disputes the results.

In the first four days of demonstrations that followed, Belarus security forces detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds with rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs. At least three protesters died. Around 180 people were detained at rallies on Thursday.

A man makes v-signs in front of a riot police blockade as he is detained during a protest at the Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. Police in Belarus have dispersed protesters who gathered on the capital's central square, detaining dozens. (AP PhotoSergei Grits)

“We have general agreement on how the list will be structured and who will be, more or less, on the list,” Czech Republic Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin. However, the technicalities involved in legally finalizing the list won't be concluded for at least another week.

Asked whether the Belarus president will be hit by a travel ban and asset freeze, Petricek said he believes that “Lukashenko should be on the list. The question is whether in the first stage, or a later stage if there is no progress.”

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius agreed that Lukashenko should be on the list now, but he acknowledged that there may be “tactical reasons” to keep the Belarus leader off. Lithuania had tabled its own list of 118 officials.

An elderly protester speaks to a policeman holding an old Belarusian national flag in front of riot police blocked Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. Police in Belarus have dispersed protesters who gathered on the capital's central square, detaining dozens. (AP PhotoSergei Grits)

Some countries prefer a gradual approach that would ratchet up pressure by adding more names progressively if Lukashenko failed to enter into talks with the opposition.

Greece and Cyprus are also believed to be demanding that sanctions be slapped on Turkey for what they say is its illegal energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean before the two countries agree to the measures against Belarus.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that he stands ready to send police to Belarus if protests there turn violent, but sees no such need yet. Linkevicius said that “we cannot exclude this invasion,” and that the EU must also send a clear warning to Russia.

Follow AP’s coverage of Belarus at https://www.apnews.com/Belarus