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Germany's Maas: Lukashenko is holding Belarus 'hostage'

August 8, 2021

Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko "has lost all political and moral legitimacy," said Germany's foreign minister. On the anniversary of his contested reelection, the EU has also threatened further sanctions.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas
Germany's top diplomat said the people of Belarus have earned the world's admiration in their struggle for fair electionsImage: Michael Sohn/AP/picture alliance

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas praised the "perseverance" of the Belarusian people on Sunday, saying the European Union will not allow them to be "muzzled" by the government.

His comments come ahead of the one-year anniversary of presidential elections in Belarus that saw longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko reelected to a sixth term in a vote widely decried as unfair.

In the aftermath, tens of thousands of people were arrested at peaceful mass protests — with some reportedly tortured — while opposition politicians and critical voices were forced into exile.

What did Maas say?

Germany's top diplomat sharply criticized the actions of the Belarusian government and Lukashenko, who the EU does not recognize as president.

"An entire country is being held hostage by Alexander Lukashenko," Maas said in a statement emailed to DW on Sunday evening.

"A head of state who arrests, jails, tortures and forces his citizens into exile by the tens of thousands over peaceful protests has lost all political and moral legitimacy," he added.

Following the August 9 presidential election in 2020, Belarusian people took to the streets en masse to demand "fair and free new elections and the release of political prisoners."

"Germany and the European Union therefore stand with the people of Belarus […] we will not allow for them to be muzzled," Maas said.

EU threatens further sanctions

In response to the crackdown in Belarus and in light of Minsk's "instrumentalization" of migrant crossings to hit back at the EU, Brussels said it was prepared to implement more sanctions.

"The EU stands ready to consider further measures in light of the regime's blatant disregard of international commitments," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday.

"A reversal of EU sanctions will only be possible once the authorities in Belarus fully adhere to the principles of democracy and the rule of law, respect human rights obligations and cease all repression," he added.

Borrell warned last month that the bloc is preparing harsher financial sanctions that could be approved in September.

The EU sanctions blacklist targets 166 people — including Lukashenko and two of his sons — as well as over a dozen companies tied to Lukashenko's government.

What happened in Belarus?

Following the August 9 election last year, Lukashenko was declared the winner with over 80% of the vote — despite overwhelming accusations of electoral fraud.

His reelection sparked mass protests against Lukashenko with people demanding new elections. The Belarusian government responded with a sweeping and violent crackdown.

Authorities also sparked outrage and censure from the EU over the forced diversion of a RyanAir jet and subsequent detention of dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega in May.

The government came under the global spotlight again last week when Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was almost forced to leave the Tokyo 2020 Games after criticizing Belarusian sports officials. She has since fled to Poland.

The EU is also currently embroiled in a dispute with Belarus over migrant border crossings, with Brussels blaming Minsk for seeking to deliberately instigate a crisis.

In July alone, EU-member Lithuania logged 2,000 illegal border crossings with Belarus.

rs/jlw (AFP, dpa)