Belarus police will now be permitted to use combat weapons in the streets if needed to respond to what the interior ministry described as increasingly radicalised mass anti-government protests.
Police said they had detained 713 people at mass protests on Sunday in which security forces used water cannon and batons to break up crowds demanding a new presidential election.
Tens of thousands of Belarusians have demonstrated every weekend since an August 9th election in which president Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner.
His opponents say the result was falsified; Mr Lukashenko denies rigging the vote. Most opposition leaders have fled the country or been arrested.
People provide medical care to an injured man during a protest against the Belarus presidential election results in Minsk on October 11th. Photograph: Stringer/AFP via Getty Images
“The protests, which have shifted largely to Minsk, have become organised and extremely radical,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
“In this regard, the interior ministry’s employees and internal troops will not leave the streets and, if necessary, will use special equipment and military weapons,” it said.
European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to sanction Mr Lukashenko and other senior officials over the August election which the West says was rigged, citing worsening police violence against protesters.
Opposition supporters during a rally to protest against the Belarus presidential election results in Minsk on October 11th. Photograph: Stringer/AFP via Getty Images
Anti-government protesters in Minsk. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images
Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, was not on the EU’s sanctions list of 40 names agreed on October 2nd, but the bloc now says his refusal to consider new elections as a way out of the crisis leaves it with no choice.
“This is an answer to the evolving situation in Belarus,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the EU ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, told reporters.
“There has not been any kind of signal from the Belarus authorities to engage in any kind of conversation,” he said, citing a “complete lack of will” from Mr Lukashenko to consider talks on holding a free and fair presidential election.
The latest round of sanctions is likely to take several days to prepare, but envoys said the travel bans and asset freezes were no longer conditional on the situation in Belarus, which ministers said was dramatically worsening.
Belarus announced retaliatory sanctions against the EU earlier this month. – Reuters