UNITED NATIONS — The main opposition challenger in Belarus' disputed presidential election urged the international community on Friday to impose sanctions on "the individuals that committed electoral violations and crimes against humanity" and take other measures to stop the violence against protesters.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told the U.N. Security Council that Alexander Lukashenko, who claimed victory in the Aug. 9 election, engaged in a "cynical and blatant attempt ... to steal the votes of the people" and "does not represent Belarus anymore."
"A nation should not be a hostage to one man's thirst for power, and it won't," she said. "Belarusians have woken up. The point of no return has passed."
Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania under pressure from Belarus authorities after the election, called Lukashenko "the one obstacle" to meeting the demands of the people: "immediate termination of violence and threats by the regime, immediate release of all political prisoners, and free and fair election."
Lukashenko, who has run the nation of 9.5 million people with an iron fist for 26 years, has dismissed the demonstrators, who have turned out en masse for nearly four weeks to protest the official election results that gave him a sixth term with 80% of the vote, as Western puppets.
During the first few days, police detained nearly 7,000 people and beat hundreds, drawing international outrage and causing anti-government demonstrations to swell. The government has since shifted tactics, seeking to squelch protests with threats, the selective detention of protesters and the prosecution of activists.
Tsikhanouskaya accused Lukashenko of "desperately clinging on to power and refusing to listen to his people and his own state officials," calling his regime "morally bankrupt, legally questionable and simply untenable in the eyes of our nation."
Recalling that Belarus was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945, she said its people now need U.N. help "to stop blatant human rights violations and cynical disregard for human dignity right in the middle of Europe."
In addition to urging the international community to use "all mechanisms" including sanctions to stop the violence, Tsikhanouskaya called for a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council to discuss rights violations in Belarus and urged the U.N. to immediately send an "international monitoring mission" to the country to document the situation on the ground.
Ambassador Olof Skoog, who heads the European Union mission to the U.N., reiterated that EU leaders have said the elections were not free and fair and urged Belarus authorities "to find a way out of the crisis through an end to violence, de-escalation, and an inclusive national dialogue." But he said, "unfortunately, the situation is not improving."
Skoog said the EU will be assessing Belarusian authorities' actions to address the current situation and conducting an in-depth review of the EU's relations with Belarus that will include taking measures, including sanctions, against those responsible for violence, unjustified arrests and falsification of election results.
Tsikhanouskaya also demanded entry and free movement for the U.N. independent human rights investigator on Belarus, Anais Marin.
Marin told the council the situation in the country "has never been as catastrophic as it has been in the past month" and "is all the more worrying as it continues to deteriorate."
She warned that "there is a great risk that a spiral of violence could threaten regional peace and security."
"When a government announces its readiness to use the army against its own citizens in peacetime, when it baselessly accuses its neighbors of interference and aggression, and when it is prepared to sacrifice the sovereignty of the country and the independence of its institutions in order to stay in place at all costs, it is international peace and security that are threatened," Marin said.
She called on all parties to exercise restraint, saying "the only possible way out of this unprecedented crisis is dialogue, which must be open, honest, and include civil society in particular."
Tsikhanouskaya also demanded an end to attacks and arrests of protesters, the immediate release of all political prisoners and an end to the intimidation and targeting of members of the Coordination Council, which she formed to organize a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from Lukashenko.
"I want to make it very clear, collaboration with the regime of Mr. Lukashenko at the moment means the support for violence and blatant violation of human rights," she said.
The opposition leader said, "We are ready and open to a dialogue with all sides, all parties and all countries that respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Belarus."
Lukashenko has dismissed demands from the EU, U.S. and others to engage in a dialogue with the opposition.
Facing Western criticism, the Belarusian leader has sought to secure support from Russia, which has a union agreement with Belarus envisaging close political, economic and military ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is ready to send police to Belarus at Lukashenko's request if the demonstrations turn violent.
During Friday's meeting, organized by Estonia which is serving a two-year term on the Security Council, Russia and China opposed any internal interference in Belarus' affairs while Western nations and former Soviet bloc countries including Romania, Poland and Ukraine rejected the election result and urged an end to violence and a political dialogue.
As the virtual meeting was taking place, hundreds of messages appeared in the chat box, almost all backing Tsikhanouskaya, many calling her "president of the Republic of Belarus."