Brussels/Minsk - The 27 leaders of the European Union do not recognize the Belarusian election results due to widespread allegations of electoral fraud, European Council president Charles Michel said on Wednesday.
Elections not recognized by the EU
Speaking after a virtual meeting between the heads of state and government during which the leaders discussed ways to address the crisis in Belarus, the top EU politician said sanctions on "a substantial number of individuals" would follow soon.
EU ministers on Friday had unanimously agreed on initiating the process for sanctions against Belarusian individuals who are involved in human rights abuses and electoral fraud, in connection with the reelection of incumbent Alexander Lukashenko on August 9.
"We don't recognize the results presented by the Belarusian authorities," Michel said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, also condemned the "brutal violence" used against protesters in the former Soviet country.
Also speaking after the meeting, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hinted the European Union would support Lukashenko stepping down. "We are ready to accompany peaceful democratic transition of power in Belarus," she said.
"We stand by the people of Belarus who want fundamental freedoms and democracy," she added.
Protests all over Belarus
Belarus' opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya also condemned the election, which placed her second to long-time authoritarian leader Lukashenko, as falsified. In a video address published before the EU leader summit, she called for "new, fair and democratic" election.
"People who went out to defend their vote in the streets of their cities all across Belarus were brutally beaten, imprisoned and tortured by the regime desperately clinging onto power," Tikhanovskaya said.
The opposition politician fled to neighbouring Lithuania last week, from where she has called for the protests to continue peacefully.
Demonstrations first broke out more than a week ago, immediately after the election. Thousands of protesters have been arrested, with many of those freed claiming to have been mistreated in detention. Three protesters have died, according to media reports.
Lukashenko is showing resistence
Lukashenko, dubbed the last dictator in Europe, claimed a landslide victory of over 80 per cent of the votes. The EU has condemned the election as "neither free nor fair" and repeatedly denounced the police violence against protesters.
But Lukashenko remained defiant on Wednesday. Before the EU leaders' meeting, he told his national security council that Western leaders should focus on their own problems instead of the political situation in Belarus.
"Before pointing a finger at us, they should put on the agenda of their meetings the yellow vests in France and the terrible riots in the US," Lukashenko said in comments carried by state news agency BelTA.
"I would want for them to first and foremost consider the protests against coronavirus isolation in Germany and other countries in Europe," Lukashenko said.
"They have a lot of problems. They should not point to Belarus to divert attention from the problems that exist in France, the US, Germany and so on," Lukashenko said.
The EU is offering major support
In his invitation letter, Michel had also warned of outside interference in a likely nod to Belarus' ally Russia.
During their virtual meeting on Wednesday, the EU leaders also discussed the possibilities for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to foster dialogue in the former Soviet country.
Several EU countries - including all three Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - have called for a new election in Belarus.
To support the Belarusian people, the European Commission would invest 53 million euros (63 million dollars), von der Leyen said.
While three million euros would go to victims of repression and to support civil society, the lion's share would go to coronavirus emergency support, she said.
Belarus' location in Europe.