In Brussels, Belarus opposition urges EU to move on sanctions


By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS, Sept 21 (Reuters) - The main opposition leader of Belarus urged the European Union on Monday to approve sanctions on officials accused of rigging the presidential election last month, travelling to Brussels to tell the bloc's foreign ministers to show courage.

Despite a sixth straight weekend of mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko over the disputed Aug. 9 vote, the EU has yet to follow through on a threat to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials. EU member states have yet to give approval to a final list of some 40 officials to be targeted.

"EU leaders have reasons not to push sanctions but I asked them to be more brave," Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the election, told reporters after meeting foreign ministers.

"Sanctions are important in our fight because it's part of pressure that could force the so-called authorities to start dialogue with us in the opposition council," she told a news conference.

The EU, like the United States, wants new elections in Belarus and for Lukashenko to quit after 26 years in power. Tsikhanouskaya, whose supporters say she won the Aug. 9 election, has ruled herself out of running in a new vote.

The EU said in late August it would impose asset freezes and travel bans on Belarusian government, election and security officials.

However, sanctions require agreement among all 27 EU member states, and the Belarus issue has become entangled in a debate over separate sanctions against Turkey, in a dispute over energy resources off Cyprus. Cyprus says it supports EU sanctions on Belarus but wants the bloc first to approve sanctions it has proposed on Turkish gas drilling operations.

(Writing by Robin Emmott Editing by Peter Graff)

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