Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has said she asked US officials to impose sanctions on Belarusian companies during a visit to Washington this week to demand stronger action against President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
Tsikhanouskaya said she delivered a list of companies in Belarus’s potash, oil, wood and steel sectors that the opposition would like to see sanctioned during a meeting with US State Department officials including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday.
Her requests included the state-owned Belaruskali producer of potash fertiliser.
Such measures would go beyond existing sanctions by the European Union and the United States and “will be a real hit on him, to make him change his behavior and to release political prisoners”, Tsikhanouskaya said during a meeting with reporters in Washington.
“I think it’s high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth,” said Tsikhanouskaya, who will also visit the White House and Capitol Hill.
The 38-year-old opposition leader was Lukashenko’s main challenger in an August 2020 election that the opposition said was rigged so that the Belarusian president could stay in power. Lukashenko denies the allegation.
The country was rocked by months of protests after the vote and the authorities launched a widespread crackdown that saw police beat thousands of demonstrators and arrest more than 35,000 people.
Leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country, while independent media outlets have had their offices searched and their journalists arrested. Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania amid the crackdown.
On Monday, authorities raided the offices of an independent newspaper and arrested three of its journalists. Alyaksandr Mantsevich, editor of the Regionalnaya Gazeta (Regional Newspaper), and journalists Zoya Khrutskaya and Nasta Utkina were detained, said the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
The BAJ said a total of 64 searches have been conducted over the last 10 days, while 32 journalists are in custody, either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.
Western countries have responded to the crackdown by imposing sanctions on Belarus.
The US, EU, Britain and Canada imposed joint sanctions after a Ryanair passenger flight was grounded in Minsk in May on the pretext of a security threat, with authorities arresting an opposition journalist and his girlfriend who were on board.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Tsikhanouskaya and Blinken during their meeting on Monday “discussed the ongoing repression, the crackdown by the Lukashenko regime and the steps that we have said, and much of the international community has said, that the Lukashenko regime must take”.
“As you know, Ms Tsikhanouskaya has been at the forefront of the opposition movement in Belarus, and we were happy to welcome her to the department today and to continue our efforts to stand with the Belarusian people and their aspirations for human rights, democracy, and their broader Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Price said.
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and claimed a sixth term in office with 80 percent of the vote in August’s poll, according to official results.