European Union leaders on Wednesday said they stand beside the people protesting for democratic rights in Belarus, underlining that the EU rejects the election results that kept the country's leader of 26 years in power and is preparing a list of Belarusians who face sanctions over vote fraud and a brutal crackdown on protesters.
The message of support came as the leading opposition candidate urged the Europeans to support "the awakening of Belarus," and as authorities in the country began again detaining protesters, who took to the streets of Minsk for an 11th day to demand that President Alexander Lukashenko resign.
"The European Union stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus, and we don't accept impunity," European Council President Charles Michel told reporters after chairing an emergency teleconference. "We don't recognize the results presented by the Belarus authorities" Michel said the EU will impose sanctions on "a substantial number" of people linked to election fraud and violence.
He also said that the 27-nation bloc fully supports mediating efforts between the Belarusian government and opposition overseen by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Workers at state-controlled companies have joined strikes this week, as the unprecedented mass protests enter their 11th day and erode the authority of the man once dubbed "Europe's last dictator." The results of the August 9 polls handed Lukashenko his sixth term with 80% of the vote, while the opposition candidate with the most support received 10%.
"The elections were neither fair nor free and therefore one cannot recognize the result of the elections," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin.
In a joint statement, the presidents of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - countries known as the Visegrad Four - called on Belarus authorities to "open the way for a political solution, and to abide by the fundamental human rights and freedoms while refraining from the use of violence.