German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has confirmed that EU foreign ministers will "intensely" discuss possible new sanctions on Belarus in the wake of a controversial election and violence against opposition protesters in the eastern European country.
Speaking at a press conference alongside his Norwegian counterpart, Ine Eriksen Soreide, Maas said he hoped a joint position would be reached by ministers at a Friday extraordinary meeting in Brussels.
Maas, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said the bloc had to "increase pressure on the rulers" in Minsk in view of the violent treatment meted out to protesters demonstrating against the reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko. He said it was clear that security forces in Belarus were acting in a manner that was "not acceptable in 21st-century Europe."
Eriksen Soreide also condemned the violence in Belarus as excessive and called for a joint response from states in the bloc, of which Norway is not a member.
Some 7,000 people are reported to have been detained in Belarus amid mass protests following Sunday's disputed presidential election, which saw Lukashenko extend his rule for a sixth term. Security forces have used stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon against protesters, with at least two people dying and hundreds suffering injuries.
In further protests in the capital, Minsk, on Thursday, hundreds of women, many in white and carrying photos of loved ones detained during protests, formed "lines of solidarity." The human chains, which began in the morning, grew longer as the day wore on, moving into central squares and roads in the city.
The opposition has said the election was rigged, and the main opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has fled the country for Lithuania, saying it was for the sake of her children.
As international outrage over the situation in Belarus grows, Germany on Thursday summoned the Belarusian ambassador for urgent talks on the disputed election.
"Today, the Belarusian ambassador was invited to the Federal Foreign Office for an urgent discussion in view of current developments," a government source told AFP news agency.
Belarus under Lukashenko has often been called "Europe's last dictatorship."
tj/stb (AFP, dpa)