Belarusian spa in Lithuania hit by EU sanctions

Belarusian women wearing clothes and holding umbrellas in colors of a protest flag march to protest against the government and Belarusian President Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, 16 December 2020. Protests have been ongoing since the presidential elections on 09 August, calling for the resignation of President Lukashenko and a fresh election to be held. [EPA-EFE/STR]

A Belarusian state-owned spa operating in Lithuania has been hit by European Union sanctions against Minsk over its brutal crackdown on opposition protesters, officials said Monday (28 December).

Ilya Yepifanau, the head physician at the Belorus spa, told AFP that Swedbank’s branch in Lithuania was “freezing the (Belorus) accounts because of EU sanctions.”

A Swedbank spokesman told AFP that the bank “directly informed the client about the situation and possible solutions regarding salaries and other mandatory payments” but declined to comment further.

The Lithuanian foreign ministry said it was aware of the freeze, adding that banks apply the sanctions automatically without government interference.

Vytaute Smaizyte, a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, said the sanatorium was targeted because it is owned by the EU-sanctioned entity GHU, which is closely linked to the office of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The EU added GHU to the sanctions list earlier this month — part of a third round of punitive measures as Lukashenko clings to power in the face of mass demonstrations following a disputed election in August.

Lukashenko, his son, and more than 80 individuals, firms and organisations currently under EU sanctions.

EU envoys agree more Belarus sanctions

EU ambassadors agreed Wednesday (16 December) further economic sanctions on Belarus over its brutal crackdown on opposition protesters, targeting 29 individuals and seven firms or organisations, diplomats said.

The decision on the third round of sanction came the same day that exiled Belarusian opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was in Brussels to receive the EU’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, in the European Parliament.

Belarusian security forces have unleashed a brutal crackdown against the protests, detaining demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile.

“The foreign ministry is aware of the Belorus accounts freeze. We are now analysing options to support the Lithuanian people who were working at the sanatorium,” Smaizyte told AFP.

Smaizyte insisted the government fully supports the sanctions: “As repressions continue, the firms working with the regime face more and more risk.”

Located in the Lithuanian resort town of Druskininkai, Belorus employs nearly 400 people, mostly Lithuanians, but many of them are currently on leave due to coronavirus restrictions.

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