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US presses Cyprus to vote yes to EU sanctions on Belarus: Official

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
George Kent, the US’s deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs

The United States has pressed Cyprus to lift an effective veto on sanctions proposed by the European Union (EU) against Belarus, a US official says.

Belarus has been in turmoil since President Alexander Lukashenko won re-election last month, with the opposition rejecting the official results and alleging voter fraud. Western countries have repeated the allegation, rejecting Lukashenko’s re-election. Anti-government protest rallies have been held in the country since, and reports say hundreds have been arrested.

The EU has compiled a list of around 40 individuals it wants to target with sanctions, claiming that they have had roles in alleged vote rigging and a purported crackdown on anti-government protests.

The measures by the European bloc need unanimous approval from all 27 member states. But Cyprus has refused to offer its vote, insisting that the bloc must simultaneously extend sanctions on Turkey in an unrelated dispute in the eastern Mediterranean.

“We encouraged them (the Cypriots) to join consensus to allow the EU to move forward, so that there could be this coherent common approach between like-minded countries,” said George Kent, the US’s deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs, on Tuesday.

He said Washington had been in contact with Nicosia to urge a change of its stance, which has drawn criticism from a number of EU members.

Recently, Turkey has been involved in a dispute with Greece and Cyprus over prospecting for energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions erupted when Turkey started sailing a seismic research vessel in a disputed area of the sea last month. While Ankara has withdrawn that vessel for maintenance and to give diplomacy a chance, it has said the ship will return after the maintenance work.

Kent’s comments came just a day after a meeting of EU foreign ministers on the proposed sanctions against Belarus failed to break the deadlock, and the matter will be discussed by EU heads of state and government during a summit in the Belgian capital next week.

The US has prepared its own sanctions against Minsk but has hoped to take action in sync with the EU.

“The initial plan had been to try to announce something in parallel this week. We’re waiting to see clarity from European leaders whether they can make a decision,” Kent added.

Lukashenko, who has rejected the allegations of voter fraud, has accused the opposition of attempting to stage a coup in the country. He has also expressed concern about foreign meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs.

Earlier this month, the 66-year-old president accused Washington of organizing the post-election protests in Belarus through social media platforms.

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