Belarus opposition leader urges tougher Western response on Lukashenko

FILE PHOTO: Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya arrives for a meeting with Latvian President Egils Levits in Riga, Latvia November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union and the United States must do more to help end the disputed rule of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Wednesday, calling on the EU to impose a further round of sanctions.

Belarus has been rocked by waves of protests since an Aug. 9 presidential election that Lukashenko says he won but the opposition - backed by Western countries - says was stolen, although the demonstrations have ebbed in recent weeks.

Thousands of protesters have been rounded up and nearly all opposition political figures have been driven into exile or jailed.

"It's crucial to impose pressure on those responsible for human and civil rights violations, but also target corrupt officials and businessmen," Tsikhanouskaya said from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius where she fled after the election.

"Unfortunately the reaction of the international community to the political crisis in Belarus is very modest," she told an online event organised by the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank in which the foreign ministers of France, Romania, Lithuania and Poland also took part.

Tsikhanouskaya repeated her call for fresh elections, saying change could only happen with the help of the EU and the United States.

The EU imposed a third round of Belarus sanctions in December, taking its list of those under travel bans and asset freezes to 88 people and seven entities. Britain, Canada and the United States have also imposed sanctions on Belarus officials.

Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told the event his country would push to expand the EU sanctions list.

"We need to cut the lines that feed the regime," he said.

However, it is not clear how much effect Western sanctions will have. Last year Russia, Lukashenko's main backer and which sees Belarus as a buffer state against NATO, approved a $1.5 billion loan to shore up the regime.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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