Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have blacklisted beleaguered Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and 29 other senior officials for alleged electoral fraud and crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
The Baltic EU members on Monday announced their sanctions as part of a coordinated effort to support protests in Belarus, which enter a fourth week since the contested presidential election in the country on August 9.
“We are sending the message that we must do more than just publish statements, we must also take concrete measures,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP news agency.
Lithuania has hosted opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled there after the election her supporters say they won.
Tikhanovskaya will address the UN Security Council on Friday at Estonia’s invitation, his spokesperson said.
The European Union has been working on its own list of individuals in Belarus to target with similar sanctions, but Western countries have mostly been cautious about fearing Russian intervention.
Meanwhile, Lukashenko on Monday discussed plans for a referendum on constitutional reforms, acknowledging the country’s “somewhat authoritarian system”.
His proposals focused on judicial reforms and rejected opposition calls to revert to the country’s 1994 constitution which was later amended to give more power to the president.
Lukashenko sought to downplay the protest movement and present himself as maintaining control and order.
But he appeared increasingly isolated and paranoid, booed by the blue-collar workers he saw as his natural supporters and inclined to wear a bulletproof vest when traveling by helicopter to his official residence.
Meeting with the president of the Supreme Court, Lukashenko said experts were discussing changes, including more independent courts, while saying it was not necessary.
“I am ready to argue with anyone that the most independent court is in Belarus. No one should laugh.”
He said, however, that the system had to work “without being tied to any personality, including Lukashenko”.
He said members of the public would be able to “give their opinion: what they like, what they don’t like”, while insisting that “those who cry out to be for the change Are a minority.
Lukashenko, democratically elected in 1994, held a referendum on changes, including constitutional reforms in 1996.
This included giving the president greater powers for the appointment of judges, including the president of the Constitutional Court.
A controversial constitutional referendum was held in 2004, allowing the president to serve three terms instead of two as before.
Lukashenko said reverting to the 1994 constitution as the opposition wants will not move the country forward.