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European Parliament Rejects Belarusian Vote Results; Lukashenka Announces Border Closures

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Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

The European Parliament on September 17 overwhelmingly passed a resolution refusing to recognize Alyaksandr Lukashenka as president of Belarus once his current term expires in November, rejecting the results of an election last month that the opposition and the West have called rigged.

The nonbinding text, which was supported on September 17 by 574 EU lawmakers, with 37 voting against and 82 abstaining, also calls for “new, free, and fair elections to take place as soon as possible under international supervision.”

"Once the term of office for the incumbent authoritarian leader [Alyaksandr Lukashenka] expires on 5 November, parliament will no longer recognize him as the president of the country," the European Parliament said in a statement.

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Following the vote, Lukashenka said that he does not need a new election to be recognized.

"We held the election in accordance with the constitution, laws of our country, and do not need any recognition. The election took place, and it is lawful," Lukashenka told a women's forum in Minsk on September 17.

The embattled strongman said that had been forced to close the border with EU neighbors Poland and Lithuania, and also to strengthen its border controls with Ukraine.

Lukashenka claimed that he dispatched "half the army" to increase security on the country's western border.

"We had to take troops off the streets. Like I said already: Put half the army on alert and close the state border with the West, primarily with Lithuania and Poland. Regrettably, we had to strengthen the state border with our fraternal Ukraine," Lukashenka said.

Belarus's Foreign Ministry described the EU resolution as "a blatant interference in Belarusian affairs, a brazen and cynical one, no matter how much they are disguising it by employing musings about democracy."

EU member states are currently working on visa bans and asset freezes against Belarusian officials whom the 27-nation bloc sees as responsible for abuses against mass protests that pose the biggest threat yet to Lukashenka's 26-year rule.

Thousands of people have been detained and beaten by police while nearly all the opposition's key leaders have been forced to leave the country or been arrested in a widening crackdown.

According to sources close to the work on sanctions, Lukashenka will not be listed initially, but the European Parliament has called for his inclusion and is asking member states to look into the possibility of including Russian citizens who are directly involved in supporting the regime in Minsk on the sanctions list.

Moscow's backing has become crucial for Lukashenka's survival and the Kremlin has accused the West of seeking a revolution in the country.

Other suggestions in the European Parliament resolution are the establishment of a donors’ conference for a “democratic Belarus, bringing together international financial institutions, G7 countries, EU member states and institutions” and to push for the withdrawal of the decision by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to hold the 2021 World Ice Hockey Championship partially in Belarus, “until the situation and, in particular, the state of human rights in the country have improved.”

The text also encourages EU member states “to facilitate and accelerate the establishment of a humanitarian corridor and the procedure for obtaining visas for those fleeing Belarus for political reasons.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has also launched an investigation into alleged human rights abuses and election fraud in Belarus.

The expert commission assigned on September 17 to conduct the investigation is expected to deliver its findings within six to eight weeks.

The United States and Canada will join 15 European countries on the commission. In announcing the measure, the 17 OSCE members said in a statement that Belarus had failed to comply with the body's earlier offer to mediate between the government and the opposition.

"The response of the Belarusian authorities has been to systematically target those who would engage in dialogue and to continue...violent repression of peaceful protestors, including women and young people," the statement said.

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