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Belarus opposition leader wants international tribunal to probe Lukashenko

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Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks at Czech Senate in Prague, Czech Republic, June 9, 2021. Roman Vondrous/Pool via REUTERS
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks at Czech Senate in Prague, Czech Republic, June 9, 2021. Roman Vondrous/Pool via Reuters

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (pictured) called on Wednesday (9 June) for an international tribunal to be set up to investigate what she called the “crimes” of President Alexander Lukashenko’s “dictatorship”, Reuters.

Lukashenko has kept a tight grip on Belarus since rising to power in 1994, and has cracked down on street protests that began last year over a presidential election which his opponents say was rigged so that he could retain power.

Lukashenko, who denies electoral fraud and dismisses criticism of his human rights record, extended the crackdown on Tuesday by signing legislation on tougher punishment, including prison sentences, for people who take part in protests or insult state officials. Read more

"I call for an international tribunal to be set up which would investigate the crimes of Lukashenko's dictatorship in the past and during the election in 2020," Tsikhanouskaya, who is now based in Lithuania, told the Czech Senate.

Tsikhanouskaya, who met Czech President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babis during her visit to the Czech Republic, gave no other details of her proposal.

She said the only solution to the situation in Belarus was holding free elections with international monitors.

Tsikhanouskaya was visiting Prague before a summit of the Group of Seven advanced economies in Britain this week at which Belarus is expected to be discussed.

The former Soviet republic outraged Western countries last month by ordering a Ryanair flight to land in the capital Minsk and arresting a dissident journalist who was on board.

Lukashenko has dismissed Western criticism over the incident, and accused Western countries of waging a "hybrid war" against him. The United States and the European Union are preparing to tighten sanctions on Belarus over the plane incident. Read more

Belarus

Belarus’s Tsikhanouskaya calls on EU, UK, US to jointly pressure Lukashenko

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The United States, Britain and the European Union should act jointly to put more pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his government, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (pictured) told Reuters on Friday (4 June), writes Joanna Plucinska.

Tsikhanouskaya made the comments during a visit to Warsaw, Poland ahead of a summit of the G7 rich countries in Britain next week, at which she hopes issues raised by the Belarusian opposition will be addressed. Belarus has shot up the international agenda since it forced down a Ryanair flight over its air space and arrested an opposition journalist last month.

"Pressure is more powerful when these countries are acting jointly and we are calling on [the] UK, the USA, the European Union and Ukraine. They have to act jointly so their voice will be more loud," Tsikhanouskaya said.

France has said it would like to invite the Belarusian opposition to the G7 summit, if host country Britain agrees. Britain has said there are no plans to invite further delegations, but that Belarus would be discussed.

Tsikhanouskaya said she had not been invited to the summit but expected Belarus would be discussed there.

Britain, the United States and the European Union all imposed bans and asset freezes on some Belarus officials after an election last year that the opposition says was rigged.

Since the Ryanair incident, Western countries have discouraged their airlines from flying over Belarus and said they will take other steps, such as barring Belarusian airlines and adding more names to their blacklists.

Some opposition figures have called for stronger measures that would have an impact on the overall Belarusian economy, such as restrictions on imports of minerals or oil from Belarus.

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Aviation/airlines

EU bans Belarusian carriers from its airspace and airports

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The Council today (4 June) decided to strengthen the existing restrictive measures in relation to Belarus by introducing a ban on the overflight of EU airspace and on access to EU airports by Belarusian carriers of all kinds.

EU member states will deny Belarusian air carriers (and marketing carriers who have a codeshare with a Belarusian carrier) permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories.

Today’s decision follows up on the European Council conclusions of 24 and 25 May 2021, in which EU heads of state and government strongly condemned the unlawful forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May 2021 endangering aviation safety.

The downing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk was carried out with the express intent of detaining journalist Raman Pratasevich who has been critical of Lukashenko’s regime and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

The Council is also assessing possible additional listings of persons and entities on the basis of the relevant sanctions framework, and further targeted economic sanctions.

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Aviation/airlines

EU to blacklist Belarus airline ahead of economic sanctions, diplomats say

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European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The European Union is preparing sanctions on Belarus' national airline and around a dozen top Belarusian aviation officials, three diplomats said, a stop-gap measure before economic sanctions following the forced landing of a passenger plane, writes Robin Emmott.

The proposed asset freezes and travel bans are part of a package of new sanctions on Belarus from EU states, which are outraged that a Ryanair flight was pressed to land in Minsk on 23 May to arrest a dissident journalist and his girlfriend.

EU governments, which described the incident as state piracy, say they are looking at targeting sectors that play a central role in the Belarus economy, to inflict real punishment on President Alexander Lukashenko. They could include bond sales, the oil sector and potash, a big Belarusian export.

Before imposing such economic sanctions, the bloc is expected to agree by June 21 - when EU foreign ministers meet - a smaller sanctions list on individuals and two entities as a quick, intermediary response, the diplomats said.

"All EU states agree with this approach," one diplomat said. A second diplomat said there would be "a clear signal for Lukashenko that his actions were dangerous and unacceptable".

While the sanctions are still under discussion, EU ambassadors as early as Friday could pre-approve banning overflights and landing in EU territory by Belarus airlines, allowing EU ministers to formally sign off on them later in the month.

Britain, no longer part of the EU, has suspended the air permit for Belarus' national carrier, Belavia. The EU is expected to do the same, the diplomats said.

The names are expected to include top Belarus' defence and transport ministry officials, military from the airforce, a top Minsk airport official and a senior civil aviation official, the diplomats said.

Also to be blacklisted and banned from business with the EU is another state-owned enterprise from the aviation sector.

More details were not immediately available. The EU does not comment publicly on ongoing preparations for sanctions.

Lukashenko said last week the journalist pulled off the plane had been plotting a rebellion, and he accused the West of waging a hybrid war against him. Read more

Since cracking down on pro-democracy protests last year, he has withstood three previous rounds of EU sanctions and comparable U.S. measures - mainly blacklists that bar officials from travelling to or doing business in Europe and the United States.

EU foreign ministers said last week that fresh sanctions would include a fourth round of travel bans and asset freezes linked to a disputed presidential election in Belarus last August. The around a dozen names are separate and directly linked to the Ryanair incident.

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