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EU to hit key Belarus sectors after plane diversion

EU foreign ministers look set to agree sanctions on key sectors of the Belarus economy on Monday to punish the authorities after the forced landing of an airliner, diplomats said.Ministers meeting in Luxembourg will discuss broad-ranging measures designed to hit the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko “in the wallet”, a European diplomat told AFP on Friday. “We are talking about sanctions that will hurt.”The sanctions are expected to target mainstays of the Belarusian economy: potash fertiliser exports, the tobacco industry, petroleum and petrochemical products, and the financial sector, diplomats said.They will also tighten restrictions on exports from the bloc of arms and equipment that can be used to crack down on demonstrators, they said. Another diplomat told AFP Austria had dropped its opposition to targeting the Belarusian financial sector at a meeting later on Friday, despite fears it could hurt Austrian banks with deep ties to Belarus. Once the sanctions receive the ministerial green light, it would still need at least several days to implement them formally, diplomats said. Belarusian strongman Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet on May 23 to intercept a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania.When the plane was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega on board. In response, the EU has already blocked Belarusian airlines from flying to the bloc and stopped carriers from its 27 nations from using Belarusian air space.Ministers on Monday are also set to formally sign off on placing more than 80 additional individuals and entities on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist. Seven of the individuals being sanctioned are linked directly to the incident involving the Ryanair passenger jet last month and the rest are targeted over the government’s broader crackdown on opposition, diplomats said.Last year, the EU slapped sanctions on 88 individuals — including Lukashenko and his son — over a brutal crackdown on protests since the veteran leader claimed victory at elections in August deemed fraudulent by the West. Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has so far shrugged off the pressure with backing from his key ally Russia.Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — who insists she rightfully won last year’s poll — will talk with EU foreign ministers before they meet on Monday. del/rmb/bpRYANAIR HOLDINGS PLC

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