Lithuanian lawmakers vote for sanctions against Belarus

World

People shout a slogan “release (from prison)” to show their solidarity with the detainees and people release balloons in colors of old Belarusian national flag into the sky at a detention center during opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. After the police crackdown at least 7,000 were detained by riot police, with many complaining they were beaten mercilessly. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuania’s parliament voted for economic sanctions against neighboring Belarus on Tuesday, saying the presidential election there mustn’t be internationally recognized.

“We are sending a strong message to the world today,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said after lawmakers approved the sanctions on a 120-0 vote with two abstentions. Nineteen of the 141 parliament members were absent.

The document adopted by lawmakers in the Seimas, Lithuania’s national legislature, also calls for an international rejection of the legitimacy of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s reelection. Further details on the economic sanctions weren’t immediately available.

Both the European Union and the U.S. government have called the presidential election in Belarus EU foreign ministers have rejected the election results and last week began drawing up a list of officials in Belarus who could face sanctions.

Lukashenko won his sixth term in office with 80% of the vote, according to official results of Belarus’ Aug. 9 election. The opposition has denounced the vote as riggedand hundreds of thousands of people have poured into the streets across the country to protest every day since the election.

The Lithuanian foreign minister said that shocking stories of protesters being beaten and tortured have started to emerge from Belarus.

“What happened there is not just a human rights abuse, but also crimes that must be investigated and those responsible punished,” Linkevicius said.

Lukashenko’s top challenger, former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, got only 10% of the vote, according to election officials. She denounced the vote as rigged and demanded a recount before leaving Belarus last week. Lithuania, which is Belarus’s northern neighbor, gave her refuge.

Lithuania has a population of 2.8 million and the Baltic nation’s capital, Vilnius, is located 170 kilometers (105 miles) from Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

Vilnius is a center for Belarusians in exile. The city hosts a university that Lukashenko banned. A number of Belarusian nongovernmental organizations have relocated there as well.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde spoke by telephone with Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei on Tuesday and demanded an end to police violence against protesters and the immediate release of all political prisoners, Swedish news agency TT reported Tuesday.

Linde also offered to travel to Minsk to meet with representatives of the government and the opposition, TT said.

Also Tuesday, the Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Leshchenya, handed in his resignation after coming out with a statement in support of the protests.

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