Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Wednesday vowed the protest movement against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko would prevail despite a brutal crackdown by the authorities, as she received the EU's top rights prize.
"We are bound to win and we will win," the exiled former presidential candidate said in Brussels, accepting the Sakharov Prize on behalf of the opposition movement.
Belarus has been gripped by four months of unprecedented anti-government demonstrations that erupted after a disputed presidential election in August which saw Lukashenko claim a sixth term in office.
His opponents say the polls were rigged and that political novice Tikhanovskaya, who ran in place of her jailed husband was the true winner.
Belarusian security forces have unleashed a harsh crackdown against the protests, detaining demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile.
"I have only one wish this year, I want every Belarusian who is now in jail or was forced to live in exile to return home," Tikhanovskaya, who is currently based in Lithuania, told the European Parliament.
- 'Actions matter' -
Tikhanovskaya demanded a tougher response from Europe against Lukashenko's regime, as the strongman clings to power after more than a quarter of a century in charge.
"We call on Europe to be braver in their decisions and support the people of Belarus now -- not tomorrow and not somewhen in the future," Tikhanovskaya said.
"It is actions that matter."
The EU has slapped sanctions on over 50 officials, including Lukashenko and his son, and European ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday agreed to add more names to the blacklist.
Sources in the European Council and an EU diplomat told AFP that a meeting of ambassadors from the EU's member states agreed on a list of 29 individuals and seven firms or organisations to be sanctioned.
The measures, to be formalised with the publication of the list on Thursday, will be the third round of sanctions the European bloc has imposed over the crisis in Belarus.
The latest EU escalation comes after Belarus announced it is to close its land border from Sunday, ostensibly to curb the spread of the coronavirus but triggering alarm in the opposition which sees it as a further clampdown on dissent.
At the start of the pandemic early this year, Lukashenko repeatedly dismissed virus concerns and did not impose a nationwide lockdown.
The new decree prevents Belarus nationals and foreigners who hold temporary or permanent residency from leaving the country via its land borders.