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World News

Lithuania, Estonia push for EU sanctions on Lukashenko, diplomats say

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Lithuania and Estonia have asked fellow EU nations to blacklist Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko when the bloc imposes sanctions on the former Soviet republic over a disputed election and a crackdown on protests, diplomatic sources said.

The European Union decided to sanction Belarusian officials it deems responsible for the presidential election, which officially gave Lukashenko about 80% of the vote but which opposition activists say was rigged.

Mass street protests erupted after the Aug. 9 vote, posing the biggest threat yet to Lukashenko. The EU has demanded the release of thousands of protesters and dialogue between the government and the opposition.

The EU is still negotiating the exact list of people to be barred from travelling and have assets they hold in the bloc frozen, aiming to approve a first set of 10 to 20 names when foreign ministers meet on Sept. 21, the sources said.

Any sanctions need unanimity from all members of the EU, which usually does not target top political figures with a view to keeping communications channels open.

The EU is also coordinating its response to the situation in Belarus with the United States and Britain. A U.S. official said the EU was considering a blacklist of 10-15 names.

Donald Tusk, head of the largest political family in the EU, the centre-right European People’s Party, told Polish website Onet that the bloc would support the Belarusian opposition.

“I am de facto certain that we (the EU) will organise as much resources as will be needed to support the opposition movement in Belarus,” said Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, traditionally a Russia hawk in the EU, who also used to chair EU summits.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Giles Elgood

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