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Merkel demands ‘unconditional’ release of protesters in Belarus, as European Commission chief calls for sanctions

Merkel demands ‘unconditional’ release of protesters in Belarus, as European Commission chief calls for sanctions
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen have slammed Minsk over its handling of post-presidential election protests and clashes across the country.

Merkel's spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, said that the chancellor was "shocked" by the reports of Belarusian protesters being abused in police custody.

Belarus must unconditionally and immediately release the people [detained in relation to the protests].

Seibert urged Minsk to respect the freedom of assembly and the access to information.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, meanwhile, demanded "additional sanctions against those who violated democratic values or abused human rights in Belarus." She added that EU foreign ministers will show "strong support" for human rights and democracy in the country.

Demonstrations erupted in Belarus after President Aleksandr Lukashenko was accused of rigging the vote to secure his re-election for a sixth term last week. The rallies frequently led to fierce clashes with police, during which at least one person was killed. Overall, more than 6,700 people were detained since the protests began.

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The highly-contentious presidential election has brought international attention to Belarus, with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia offering to mediate between the government and the opposition. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he was “incredibly troubled” by the vote and the violence afterwards, refusing to rule out sanctions as a possible response to Minsk.

Countries like Russia, China and Turkey, on the other hand, congratulated Lukashenko with re-election. According to Chinese media, President Xi Jinping said that he is ready to continue working with Lukashenko on improving bilateral ties.

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