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EU set to miss Monday deadline to impose Belarus sanctions - diplomats

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is likely to miss its own Monday deadline for imposing sanctions on Belarus, three diplomatic sources told Reuters, stalled by a lack of unanimity among member states after Cyprus dug in its heels in a separate row.

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Cyprus has said it will not agree to penalise Belarus unless the EU also puts sanctions on its neighbour, Turkey, in an unrelated dispute that has raised tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The sources, speaking after a Friday afternoon session of the bloc’s 27 national envoys to EU hub Brussels, said Nicosia insisted on its veto on introducing the already-promised sanctions on Belarus. Any such decision requires EU unanimity.

The EU vowed weeks ago to impose sanctions on Belarus for alleged election fraud and human rights abuses, and had been planning to finalise the decision when the bloc’s foreign ministers meet on Monday.

“Now it seems it’s going to the summit,” one of the sources said of a top-level meeting of the bloc’s national leaders in Brussels due on Thursday and Friday.

The Brussels diplomatic mission of Cyprus, which has said it needs time to study imposing sanctions on Belarus, did not replied to a request for comment on Friday evening.

In the latest sign of paralysis in EU foreign policy that threatens its credibility, the bloc’s plans on Belarus have fallen into disarray over the Turkey spat related to hydrocarbons drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.

With as many as 40 Belarus senior officials identified for possible sanctions and the former Soviet republic a month into mass demonstrations against the outcome of the election, many in the EU are furious that the bloc has been unable to respond.

The United Nations agreed on Friday to step up monitoring of reported rights abuses during Belarus’s crackdown on protests, angering Minsk and its ally Moscow and raising the diplomatic stakes in the crisis.

Belarus’ long-time President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in the Aug.9 vote, which the opposition and thousands of protesters have denounced as rigged.

While Cyprus demands new EU sanctions on Turkey over its dispute with Ankara, the bloc’s powerhouses Germany and France are at odds over how hard to go on President Tayyip Erdogan, the sources said, further muddying the prospects for the bloc’s swift reaction to the crisis in Belarus.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by William Maclean

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