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Belarus denounces Western sanctions as ‘economic war’

June 22, 2021 GMT

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarus said Tuesday that the new prospective Western sanctions over its diversion of a passenger plane amount to the declaration of an “economic war,” and threatened to retaliate.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada joined forces Monday to impose sanctions on several Belarusian top officials. EU foreign ministers also prepared a series of bruising economic sanctions that would target key Belarus exports, including potash — a common fertilizer ingredient — and petroleum products, among others.

Belarus’ Foreign Ministry denounced the EU plans to introduce the sectoral sanctions, saying that they would hurt ordinary people and “border on the declaration of an economic war.” It warned in a statement that the country will be forced to take retaliatory measures that would hurt Western companies.

On May 23, Belarusian flight controllers ordered a Ryanair jet traveling from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was on board the airliner.

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Outraged EU leaders responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from EU airspace and airports and directing European carriers to avoid Belarus’ airspace. They also warned of more sanctions to come.

Since his arrest, 26-year-old Pratasevich, who co-founded a widely popular channel on a messaging app that helped organize massive protests, has been shown tearfully repenting for his activities and praising Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in remarks aired on state TV. The opposition and the West have slammed the broadcasts, saying he was coerced to make the remarks.

Belarus has been shaken by months of protests fueled by Lukashenko’s re-election to a sixth term in an August 2020 election that was widely seen as rigged. The authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

Most opposition leaders have been jailed or forced to leave the country.

On Tuesday, Belarusian prosecutors said they would seek a 15-year prison sentence for Viktor Babariko, the former head of a Russia-owned bank who aspired to challenge Lukashenko but was arrested in May 2020. Babariko, who has remained in jail pending his trial, rejects the corruption charges against him as politically driven.