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EU slaps economic sanctions on Belarus over rights breaches

European Commission President Ursula meets the media during a joint news conference with Italian Premier Mario Draghi, at the Cinecitta' studios in Rome, Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union slapped economic sanctions on Belarus Thursday in response to what the EU called the “escalation of serious human rights violations” including the detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich.

The sanctions target the economy but are also aimed at hitting President Alexander Lukashenko and his allies.

Pratasevich, a dissident journalist, was arrested May 23 after Belarusian flight controllers ordered a Ryanair jet traveling from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk.

The sanctions agreed Thursday target industries including potash — a common fertilizer ingredient — tobacco industry exports and petroleum products.

“Trade in petroleum products, potassium chloride (‘potash’), and goods used for the production or manufacturing of tobacco products is restricted,” the EU said in a statement. The sanctions also include a ban on sales to Belarus of equipment and software that can be used to monitor the internet and phone calls.

The EU has gradually ratcheted up sanctions since Lukashenko — dubbed the last dictator in Europe — won a sixth term last August in elections the bloc called fraudulent.

The 27-nation bloc has taken a tougher line since the Ryanair incident, and over the country’s alleged use of migrants to pressure neighboring Lithuania, which has provided a safe haven to Belarusian opposition figures and is one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics.

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