SEOUL/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Britain and Canada imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Tuesday on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, his son and other senior officials over accusations their government rigged an election and committed violence against protesters.
The sanctions were the first to be implemented by major Western powers over the crisis in Belarus, a close Russian ally.
More than 12,000 people have been arrested in mass demonstrations since Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, was named the landslide winner of an Aug. 9 presidential election his opponents say was stolen. Lukashenko denies electoral fraud.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Reuters that Lukashenko should pay a cost for abusing human rights and rigging votes. Raab also mentioned Lukashenko’s ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, although none of the measures Britain announced on Tuesday targets Russia.
“First and foremost there must be a cost, there must be a price with the kind of human rights abuses that we’ve seen and the fraudulent approach to that election,” Raab said in an interview during a visit to the South Korean capital Seoul.
“We can’t just have a situation where the likes of Alexander Lukashenko and frankly Vladimir Putin think that the human rights abuses and the rigging of that election can just pass without them being held to account.”
Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said: “Canada will not stand by silently as the Government of Belarus continues to commit systematic human rights violations and shows no indication of being genuinely committed to finding a negotiated solution with opposition groups.”
The West has so far treaded carefully, balancing sympathy for the pro-democracy movement in Belarus with caution not to provoke Moscow.
The European Union, which Britain quit in January, has said it will impose sanctions on a list of Belarusian officials, but so far has yet to finalise that list. Some small EU countries near Belarus have announced sanctions lists without waiting for the bloc to act. Sources told Reuters last week that the United States also plans sanctions.
Britain’s measures impose travel bans and asset freezes on Lukashenko and seven others, including Lukashenko’s son Viktor, the presidential chief of staff, the interior minister, and two deputy interior ministers. Canada’s list includes Lukashenko and 10 others.
“There is a vanishing window to influence what is playing out in Belarus and we believe the time to take action is now,” Raab said. “We will hold those responsible for the thuggery deployed against the Belarusian people to account and we will stand up for our values of democracy and human rights.”
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