The European Union says Aleksandr Lukashenko’s sixth inauguration as the leader of Belarus lacks democratic legitimacy and only deepens the nation’s political crisis.
The bloc also said it’s reviewing its relations with Belarus.
Therefore, “the so-called ‘inauguration'” on Sept. 23, which took place without notice, and the new mandate claimed by Lukashenko, “lack any democratic legitimacy,” the statement reads.
“This ‘inauguration’ directly contradicts the will of large parts of the Belarusian population, as expressed in numerous, unprecedented and peaceful protests since the elections, and serves to only further deepen the political crisis in Belarus,” Borrell said.
Since the Aug. 9 elections, which domestic opponents and Western countries consider to have been rigged, tens of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets, calling for Lukashenko to resign from the position he’s held for 26 years. Many protesters were arrested and brutalized by the police.
Belarusian security forces on Sept. 23 used truncheons and water cannons to disperse crowds as thousands protested against the unannounced inauguration, leaving dozens injured.
The country’s Interior Ministry on Sept. 24 said that 364 people were detained the previous night, including 252 in Minsk. The vast majority of them remain in custody, awaiting a court hearing.
Borrell said the EU is “impressed and moved by the courage of the Belarusian people, who continue to demonstrate peacefully for democracy and for their fundamental rights despite the brutal repression of the Belarusian authorities.”
Borrell urged the Belarusian authorities to stop “any further repression and violence,” “immediately and unconditionally” release detained protesters and political prisoners, and start an “inclusive national dialogue” to resolve the country’s “serious political crisis.”
The bloc will “fully support” the right of Belarusian citizens to “elect their president through new free and fair elections” under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Borrell said.
The EU, a large financial donor to Belarus, also said it was “reviewing its relations” with the country, meaning the bloc would seek to cut off direct funding to Lukashenko’s government, channeling it to aid groups and hospitals instead.
Before the election, the EU had committed to spend 135 million euros ($157 million) on projects in Belarus and has also pledged 53 million euros ($62 million) for the fight against the CCP virus pandemic.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Sept. 21 discussed with EU foreign ministers in Brussels how to bypass the state administration to support doctors and hospitals.
“I asked Europe not to support financially the regime. All the money Mr. Lukashenko can get now will not go to support the Belarusian people but will go for those repressions,” she told reporters, referring to the pro-democracy crackdown.
On Sept. 21, EU foreign ministers failed to impose sanctions on Belarus officials suspected of election fraud or of playing a part in a brutal security crackdown on the post-election protests, despite appeals from Lukashenko’s main opponent to take courageous action against the regime.
Cyprus continues to block the sanctions move, which requires EU member states’ unanimous vote, until similar measures are slapped on Turkey for its disputed energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. EU leaders will try to break the deadlock when they meet in Brussels on Oct. 1.
In an email statement to The Associated Press, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said “Lukashenko does not belong in a presidential palace. He belongs on the EU sanctions list.”
“The secrecy surrounding his inauguration ceremony just illustrates that he has not been sworn in based on free and fair elections, but on election fraud and violence,” Kofod said.
Lukashenko on Sept. 24 argued that the inauguration wasn’t prepared in secret and bristled at Western criticism.
“You know, about 2,000 people, together with the military, were invited to the inauguration. It is practically impossible to keep it secret,” he was quoted by the state news agency Belta as saying.
“We didn’t ask anyone to recognize or not recognize our election, the legitimacy of the newly elected president … the important thing is that it’s in accordance with the Constitution,” Lukashenko said.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Sept. 24 that Britain would prepare targeted sanctions against those responsible for human rights abuses in Belarus.
Despite the crackdown, rallies continued on Sept. 24, with hundreds in Minsk forming human chains of solidarity in parts of the city and obstructing road traffic by driving slowly or stopping altogether, honking in protest.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.