The people of Belarus want change.

Statement by President Von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel, following the videoconference of the European Council members on the situation in Belarus

And they want it now.

We are impressed by the courage of the people of Belarus. For exactly ten days, since the presidential elections took place, the people of Belarus have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers. They demand the release of all unlawfully detained prisoners. The prosecution of those responsible for police brutality. They want freedom of speech and assembly. And they want democracy and new presidential elections as these elections were neither fair nor free.

Today, we give them three clear messages. Firstly, we stand by the people of Belarus, who want fundamental freedoms and democracy. Secondly, we will sanction all those responsible for violence, repression and falsification of the results of the election. The people of Belarus took peacefully to the streets and the authorities answered with violence, and this cannot be accepted. Thirdly, we are ready to accompany peaceful democratic transition of power in Belarus.

First, on the support. We already provide a lot of support to Belarus through the Eastern Partnership. But now, it is more important than ever to be there for the Belarus people and to reprogramme money away from the authorities and towards civil society and vulnerable groups. The European Commission will mobilise now an additional EUR 53 million to support the Belarusian people in these challenging times: EUR 2 million to assist the victims of repression and unacceptable state violence. EUR 1 million to support civil society and independent media. And EUR 50 million of coronavirus emergency support for the health sector for example hospitals or the procurement of medical equipment, but also for small and medium-sized enterprises, or vulnerable groups or social services.

But as we increase our support to the people of Belarus, we must be firm with those that rigged the elections and are repressing brutally demonstrators.

So secondly, there was unanimous support for the EU to be working on sanctions against those responsible for what is taking place. Targeted sanctions on specific persons, without hurting the people of Belarus. The Commission stands ready to support and the list of people submitted to sanctions should be adopted as soon as possible.

Thirdly, we stand ready to engage in all possible ways to accompany peaceful democratic transition of power in Belarus. We support the opening of dialogue between authorities and the opposition. And there was strong support for a role of the OSCE. The OSCE might be seeking ways to facilitate dialogue in Belarus. Belarus is a member of the OSCE. It is not so much on mediation, but on opening communication channels within Belarus.

Finally, the demonstrations in Belarus are not against any neighbouring country or entity. The demonstrations in Belarus are for the rights of the people of Belarus. This is about the Belarusian people and their legitimate right to determine the future path of their country. The European Union stands at the side of the Belarusian people. Violence has to stop. Only an inclusive dialogue will find solutions. The future of Belarus must be decided by the Belarusian people in Belarus. It must grow from within.

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