EU Paves Way for Belarus Sanctions After Cyprus Drops Veto

European Union leaders cleared the way for sanctions on Belarus over an Aug. 9 presidential election that the bloc says was neither free nor fair.

The measures are due to take the form of asset freezes and travel bans against around 40 Belarusian officials implicated in alleged fraud in the election and in a post-ballot crackdown on domestic protesters. The sanctions will be implemented at once,, EU summit chair Charles Michel told reporters

The 27 national leaders achieved a breakthrough in the early hours of Friday when Cyprus lifted its veto, bolstering the bloc’s efforts to pressure Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after a contested election result.

“We have decided today to implement the sanctions” against Belarus, Michel said after the deal. “This is a clear signal that we send. We are credible.”

Cyprus had refused for weeks to sign off on the Belarus penalties unless other member states agreed to expand a blacklist against Turkey over its controversial natural-gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. But other governments, including Germany, were wary of provoking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who plays a key role in containing illegal migration into Europe, and the deadlock dented the bloc’s push to exert more geopolitical clout.

InFebruary, the EU had imposed asset freezes and travel bans on two employees of Turkish Petroleum Corp. in response to Turkey’s gas hunt off Cyprus. But a Cypriot proposal to include Turkish entities and add individuals to that blacklist has been held up since June.

Lukashenko was sworn in for a sixth term at a surprise ceremony on Sept. 23 despite hundreds of thousands of opponents turning out at weekly demonstrations across the country. Western governments including Germany and Lithuania have refused to recognize his victory, while exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she is the legitimate winner of the election.

The EU has deployed trade and financial sanctions against Belarus for years in a bid to prod Lukashenko to upgrade democratic standards after 26 years in office.

Since 2004, the EU has frozen the assets and imposed a travel ban on four people linked to the disappearances of two opposition politicians, a businessman and a journalist.

Since 2007, it has suspended tariff benefits as a result of labor-rights violations.

And since 2011, it has imposed an arms embargo.

In early 2016, the bloc removed 170 individuals and three entities from its blacklist after the previous year saw all Belarusian political prisoners released and presidential elections held peacefully.

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