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EU Agrees On New Belarus Sanctions As Tsikhanouskaya Accepts Sakharov Prize

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Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya delivers a speech as she holds a picture of politician and political prisoner Mikalay Statkevich while receiving the Sakharov human rights prize at the European Parliament in Brussels on December 16.

EU ambassadors have agreed on a package of economic sanctions on Belarus over its crackdown on opposition protesters, targeting 29 individuals and seven firms or organizations, diplomats say.

The measures are said to include bans on conducting business in the 27-member bloc, freezing of assets, and travel bans.

The sanctions -- the third package on Belarus agreed by the EU -- are to be officially adopted during a meeting of the European Council on December 17.

An invisible wall of fear had been built around us. But this year, united, we believe that this wall of fear could be taken down, brick by brick. The dream of a better Belarus keeps us going."
-- Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya

The latest list of individuals and entities to be sanctioned is expected to be published the same day in the EU's official administrative gazette.

The EU ambassadors' decision came the same day that Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and other leaders of the Belarusian democratic opposition were awarded the bloc's top human rights award.

Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, his son, and more than 50 Belarusian officials have already been placed under EU sanctions.

Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, has faced almost daily protests calling for his resignation since a presidential election on August 9 that the opposition says was rigged and which the West has refused to accept.

Police have violently cracked down on the postelection protests, with more than 27,000 detentions, according to the UN. There have also been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment, and several people have died.

Tikhanovskaya, who left Belarus for neighboring Lithuania fearing for the safety of her family, and other Belarusian opposition leaders were in Brussels on December 16 to receive the European Parliament's 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Tsikhanouskaya received the prize on behalf of the Coordination Council, a body set up by the political opposition to facilitate a transfer of power in Belarus.

"An invisible wall of fear had been built around us," she told European lawmakers in her acceptance speech. "But this year, united, we believe that this wall of fear could be taken down, brick by brick. The dream of a better Belarus keeps us going.

"We are bound to win and we will win," the exiled former presidential candidate said. "Without a free Belarus, Europe is not truly free. Long live Europe, long live Belarus!"

"Your fight is our fight," European Parliament President David Sassoli told the Belarusian opposition members during his introduction.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.

Sassoli has said the representatives of the Belarusian opposition were being recognized for the courage, resilience, and determination that they have shown in defense of the freedom of thought and expression.

The 50,000-euro ($59,180) annual human rights prize is named after the Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov and was established in 1988 to honor individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Besides Tsikhanouskaya, the award goes to several other members of Belarus’s opposition Coordination Council, including Maryya Kalesnikava, Veranika Tsapkala, Volha Kavalkova, and Syarhey Dyleuski; Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich; Tsikhanouskaya's imprisoned husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski; the founder of the Telegram channel NEXTA, Stsyapan Putsila; Ales Byalyatski from the human rights organization Vyasna; and political prisoner Mikalay Statkevich, who was a presidential candidate in the 2010 election.

Later in the day, the U.S. State Department said Tsikhanouskaya and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun participated in a virtual discussion on the ongoing political crisis in Belarus.

During the discussion hosted by the German Marshall Fund, Biegun "reaffirmed strong U.S. support for the Belarusian people's resounding calls for their voice to be heard in determining their country’s fate," according to department spokesman Cale Brown.

He added that the deputy secretary "underscored U.S. calls for dialogue between the Coordination Council and Belarusian authorities to resolve the crisis, truly free and fair elections under international observation, and the unconditional release of all political prisoners and those unjustly detained."

With reporting by AFP and dpa
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