BRUSSELS—European Union leaders agreed early Friday to impose sanctions on dozens of senior officials in Belarus accused of falsifying presidential election results and leading a crackdown on peaceful protesters, after unblocking a veto against the move by one of the EUs smallest member countries.
In an embarrassing standoff, Cyprus had insisted that its EU partners take action against Turkey for its energy exploration work in disputed waters off the Mediterranean island nations coast before it would agree to the Belarus sanctions.
But after several hours of talks into the night, the leaders agreed on a strong statement of support for Cyprus, as well as for Greece, and a stern warning to Turkey that it could face punitive measures if it continues the undersea drilling work.
“We have to decided today to implement the sanctions,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters after chairing the summit in Brussels. “Its very important to do what we decided a few weeks ago,” and to send a signal that “we are credible.”
Michel said that a special written procedure would be launched on Friday to impose sanctions on about 40 Belarus officials.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko “is not on the current list. But we will follow the developments,” Michel said. The leader once dubbed Europes last dictator could be added to the list at a later date, should he refuse to enter into talks with the opposition, EU diplomats have said.
The political row has tarnished the EUs image. It is also unusual in that all 27 EU member countries, including Cyprus, reject the result of the Aug. 9 election that returned Lukashenko to power for a sixth term. They all want a new election and agree that sanctions should be slapped on several officials.
Ahead of the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said “it is bad that we cannot make it work.”
Throughout Thursday evening, the leaders debated what approach to take in the EUs increasingly tense ties with Turkey over its drilling in the Mediterranean Sea, its roles in the conflicts in Libya and Syria, and as a sometimes troublesome source of migrants trying to reach Europe.
In a summit statement, they agreed that if Turkey continues to react positively in talks with Cyprus and Greece the bloc will “launch a positive political EU-Turkey agenda” with trade and customs incentives, and they held out the prospect of more money and benefits for continued cooperation on migrant flows.
If not, the leaders warned, “the EU will use all the instruments and the options at its disposal,” to “defend its interests and those of its Member States.”
“It is now Turkey that has to prove that it wants to go the constructive road with us, and this is the offer tonight. But we are very clear that in the opposite case we have all necessary tools at our disposal,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
French President Emmanuel Macron was staunch in his support for his European partners, saying that “solidarity is non-negotiable” when it comes to Cyprus, but also to Greece in its long-running dispute with Turkey.
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Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh receive Covid-19 vaccine
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh have received their Covid-19 vaccinations, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Saturday.
Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger
Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.
The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.
“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”
It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.
Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.
The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.
Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.
On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.
Niger votes in presidential and legislative elections
People in Niger began voting in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Mohamed Bazoum, the right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou is the favourite to win.
The sixty-year-old former interior minister is aiming for outright victory in the first round — something that no candidate has done before.
He’s focussing on security and education.
Over 7 million people are eligible to vote. But some voters, like Gambina Moumouni, simply want a president they can trust.
“We pray to Allah to choose us the president who has the most mercy for the people, a president who will not betray the country and who will not betray the trust of the people, that is our wish. It is also our wish that Allah may help to make the poor, the peasants, the (cattle) breeders happy.
Thirty candidates are standing including two former presidents and two former prime ministers, but according to seasoned observers in the region, the poll is arousing little enthusiasm among the population.
Niger is the world’s poorest according to the UN’s Human Development Index and also one of those hardest hit by climate change.
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