European Union states have stopped joining the United States and the United Kingdom and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarus in an attempt to resolve an internal dispute over how to impose fines.
The three sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Wednesday that Washington had avoided moving sanctions because it believed the EU could reach an agreement at a meeting of the European Council starting Thursday.
Lithuanian President Gitanus Nauseda, where Belarus’s main opposition leader is in exile, said he expected the meeting to “be a key issue in deciding whether to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials.”
The EU promised in August to impose sanctions on Belarus for alleged fraud in its August 9 election and subsequent human rights abuses, but Cyprus, one of its smaller members, has proved to be an obstacle.
Cyprus has said it will not agree to Belarusian sanctions unless the EU also imposes sanctions on Turkey over a separate dispute over Turkish drilling for oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Six sources told Reuters last week that the UK, Canada and the USA had planned to impose sanctions on individual Belarusians in a coordinated move, but only London and Ottawa did so.
A Washington source familiar with the matter told Reuters that U.S. sanctions, including human rights sanctions, had been lifted. The package is essentially ready, but the timing of this announcement was uncertain.
The sanctions are a response to the disputed election, which the opposition said was rigged, and to the treatment of protesters in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled for 26 years.
Top basketball player arrested
More than 12,000 people have been arrested since Lukashenko, who denied election fraud, was declared the landslide winner. The main opposition parties are either in jail or in exile.
According to the AFP news agency, Belarus’s top female basketball player, Yelena Luchanka, was detained at the airport on Wednesday and sentenced to 15 days in prison in protest against Lukashenko.
Two-time Olympian Luchanka was detained at Minsk airport as he prepared to leave the country for treatment abroad.
Meanwhile, a Cypriot source said there was a “political agreement” on Turkey’s sanctions at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin in August and that Cyprus was ready to implement it, although it was not clear what the source meant.
“It is not a question of softening or hardening the situation (Cyprus),” the source told Reuters.
The German Foreign Ministry said the ministers agreed on “their unity with Greece and Cyprus”, but stressed that constructive dialogue with Turkey is important for resolving “contentious issues in the Eastern Mediterranean”.
In a separate development, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday she would talk to Svetlana Tikhanavskaya, Belarus’s main opposition leader, while French President Emmanuel Macron promised to help mediate the Belarus crisis.
In her address to the German parliament, Merkel praised the “courage” of the women who are leading the protests.
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