Belarus opposition leader asks U.S. to impose more sanctions

FILE PHOTO: Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya attends a meeting with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (not pictured) at Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Tuesday that she asked U.S. officials to impose sanctions on companies in her country's potash, oil, wood and steel sectors, as she visited Washington seeking stronger action against President Alexander Lukashenko's government.

Such measures would go beyond existing sanctions on Lukashenko's political allies and government bodies and "will be a real hit on him, to make him change his behavior and to release political prisoners," Tsikhanouskaya told reporters.

She said she delivered the list of enterprises, among them state-owned Belaruskali producer of potash fertilizer, at a meeting on Monday with State Department officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

On Tuesday during a webinar sponsored by the Atlantic Council think tank, Tsikhanouskaya called for much tougher action by the world's democracies against Lukashenko, who has kept a tight grip on Belarus since 1994 and cracked down on peaceful street protests that began over a disputed presidential election last August.

"I think it's high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth," said Tsikhanouskaya, who will also visit the White House and Capitol Hill.

Tsikhanouskaya, 38, was a candidate in the election instead of her husband Sergei Tsikhanouskiy, a video blogger who has been jailed since May 2020 on charges such as violating public order, which he denies. Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighboring Lithuania after Lukashenko's crackdown.

Lukashenko's opponents say the election was rigged so that he could retain power. He denies the allegation. Meanwhile, the government has detained thousands of people amid allegations of torture, and shuttered independent media and rights groups.

Tsikhanouskaya called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop supporting Lukashenko.

"The relationship of Russia and Belarus at the moment is so close that the next step is loss of independence," she told reporters. "We understand that Lukashenko has to pay for the support of the Kremlin."

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Jonathan Landay in Washington and Matthias Williams in Kyiv; Editing by Giles Elgood and Grant McCool)

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