The EU has threatened to impose sanctions on Belarus, after its President Alexander Lukashenko was accused of election rigging.
The European Council President Charles Michel said today that the bloc did not accept the election result, which saw Lukashenko get 80 per cent of the vote.
His opponent Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was said to have won just 10 per cent of the vote, which is considered an impossibility.
It is widely thought inside and outside of Belarus that the election was fixed to extend Lukashenko’s 26-year reign, with many examples of ballot stuffing documented.
Tsikhanouskaya was forced to flee to Lithuania for her own safety just days after last week’s poll.
Speaking to EU leaders at a summit today, Michel said: “The EU will impose shortly sanctions on a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression and election fraud.”
EU Commisioner Ursula von der Leyen added that the EU would hand over €53m that was originally intended for the Belarus government instead to local groups.
The election result sparked mass protests in Minsk, with an estimated 200,000 people taking to the streets earlier this week.
Protesters have been met with extreme violence from police, with at least two demonstrators killed and thousands more imprisoned.
Local media reports have also indicated that detained protesters have been subject to torture.
The demonstrations pose the largest challenge to the presidency of Lukahenko – often described as Europe’s last dictator – since his reign began in 1994.
Michel said today that the EU stood in solidarity with the Belarus protesters.
“We stand by your side in desire to exercise your rights and peaceful, democratic future,” he said.
The EU’s response came after Tsikhanouskaya – who believes she would have won a fair election with more than 60 per cent of the vote – called for help from Brussels.
“I call on you not to recognise these fraudulent elections. Mr Lukashenko has lost all the legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” she said.
Tsikhanouskaya, 37, opposed Lukashenko in the election in place of her husband who was locked up by the regime for subversive behaviour.