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German FM calls for economic sanctions on Belarus

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas waits for the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting on June 16, 2021 at the Chancellery in Berlin. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / POOL / AFP)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday called for broad economic sanctions against Belarus ahead of an EU meeting to discuss additional punitive action after the forced landing of an airliner.

“I think additional sanctions against Belarus are unavoidable,” Maas said in an interview with Die Welt newspaper.

“We should extend the sanctions to parts of the Belarusian economy, such as the potash industry or the energy sector. And we should deprive the government in Minsk of the possibility to raise funds within the EU by issuing government bonds,” he said.

EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss their next steps in response to the downing of the plane, the latest twist in a months-long brutal crackdown on opposition by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The bloc has already hit Belarus with punitive measures affecting individual bodies and representatives of the leadership around Lukashenko.

Ministers in Luxembourg will discuss broad-ranging measures designed to hit the Lukashenko regime “in the wallet”, a European diplomat told AFP on Friday.

“We are talking about sanctions that will hurt.”

They will also tighten restrictions on exports from the bloc of arms and equipment that can be used to crack down on demonstrators, they said.

Belarusian strongman Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet on May 23 to intercept a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania.

When the plane was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega on board.

In response, the EU has already blocked Belarusian airlines from flying to the bloc and stopped carriers from its 27 nations from using Belarusian air space.

Ministers on Monday are also set to formally sign off on placing more than 80 additional individuals and entities on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has so far shrugged off the pressure with backing from his key ally Russia.

Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — who insists she rightfully won last year’s election — will talk with EU foreign ministers before they meet on Monday.

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