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EU to Hit Key Belarus Sectors After Plane Diversion

FILE - In this May 23, 2021, photo, a Ryanair jet that carried opposition figure Raman Pratasevich was diverted to Minsk, Belarus, after a bomb threat.

EU foreign ministers will look to agree sanctions on key sectors of the Belarus economy Monday to punish the authorities after the forced landing of an airliner, diplomats said.

Ministers meeting in Luxembourg are set to discuss broad-ranging measures designed to hit the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko "in the wallet", a European diplomat told AFP on Friday.
The sanctions are expected to target mainstays of the Belarusian economy, including potash fertilizer exports, the tobacco sector, and petroleum and petrochemical products, diplomats said.
They will also tighten restrictions on exports from the bloc of arms and equipment that can be used to crackdown on demonstrators, diplomats said.

"We are talking about sanctions that will hurt," the diplomat said.

Diplomats said there is still disagreement over targeting the financial sector due to opposition from EU member Austria, which has deep banking ties with the country.

Belarusian strongman Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet on May 23 to intercept Ryanair's Athens-to-Vilnius flight.

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 meet EU foreign ministers before their meeting on Monday.