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EU sanctions 'a small victory': Belarusian opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya

BERLIN (Reuters) - European Union sanctions against 40 officials in Belarus are “a small victory” but should be widened, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday, adding she would press Germany’s Angela Merkel to do more at a meeting on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks during a news conference with European Parliament President David Sassoli (not pictured), in Brussels Belgium September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool

Tsikhanouskaya fled her homeland for Lithuania amid a police crackdown in Belarus following an Aug. 9 presidential election, which official results said incumbent Alexander Lukashenko won, but which Tsikhanouskaya’s supporters say was rigged.

Lukashenko denies doctoring the election result. EU leaders agreed last Friday to impose sanctions on 40 individuals including Belarus’ interior minister and the head of its electoral commission.

“It’s a victory but it’s a small victory, and I’m sure - and I insist - that this list should be widened,” Tsikhanouskaya said of the sanctions in an interview with Reuters ahead of a meeting with Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday.

She expected the encounter to be “a warm conversation between two women - one of which needs help for my country, and one of which I’m sure is eager to help us,” she said, speaking English.

“I have some proposals of help from her side and I think we will discuss them,” she added, without giving details. “Germany does a lot, but I’m sure it can do more”.

Merkel, who said after the Aug. 9 election that it was neither free nor fair and Germany could not accept its result, has ruled herself out as a mediator, as she said Lukashenko had refused her requests for a phone call.

Tsikhanouskaya, who met French President Emmanuel Macron last week, was confident Lukashenko “will step away” and that new elections, “fair and transparent”, would follow.

The two-month-old crisis has pushed Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which has propped up Belarus with loans and an offer of military support. Both have accused the West of meddling in Belarus.

The West has had to balance its sympathy for the pro-democracy movement with its reluctance to provoke Moscow.

Police in Belarus detained 317 people during protests in Minsk and across the country on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said on Monday.

Tsikhanouskaya said of the protesters: “It’s not safe, but they do this because they know what they are fighting for, what they are demonstrating for, and this matters.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt

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