Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers his annual address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly in Minsk, Belarus Photograph:( Reuters )
The EU came to a decision on Friday after Cyprus dropped its opposition over demands that the bloc also punish Turkey for tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
European Union leaders have finally agreed to impose sanctions on about 40 individuals in Belarus.
They came to a decision on Friday after Cyprus dropped its opposition over demands that the bloc also punish Turkey for tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
"We had a double strategy," European Council President Charles Michel told a news conference after the first day of a summit that went past midnight.
"We state that we want to give political dialogue a chance. On the other hand we express our firmness on our values and support for Greece and Cyprus. We are ready to engage in a more positive agenda with Turkey provided that Turkey wants to engage in a more positive agenda with us."
EU chief Charles Michel, however, confirmed that Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko was himself not among the figures targetted on a new sanctions list.
"No Lukashenko is not on the current list, but of course we will follow the situation, we will follow developments," the president of the European Council said after meeting EU leaders.
The deal on sanctions against about 40 officials accused of rigging August's presidential election in Belarus means the EU can make good on a promise to support pro-democracy protesters in Minsk and regain some credibility after weeks of delays.
To this end, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU sanctions on Belarus sent an important signal to those who stand in the way of democracy.
"We can say today that the sanctions against the actors in Belarus will come into force," she told reporters at the summit. "The European Union is taking action against those who stand in the way of democracy. I think that is an important signal."
Turning to Turkey and tensions with Cyprus over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, Merkel urged Ankara to continue along the path of de-escalating tensions.
"We hope that out of this we will again have a negotiating dynamic with Turkey, both regarding bilateral issues with Greece and Cyprus and regarding European Union issues with Turkey," she said.
Cyprus, one of the EU's smallest countries, had blocked the action against Belarus for a month, insisting that sanctions also be imposed on its neighbour Turkey for oil and gas exploration along the coast of the Mediterranean island.
Germany pushed back against a tough stand on Turkey, fearing it would disrupt efforts to cool tensions with EU member Greece.
Turkey, both a candidate to join the EU and a member of NATO, has slid towards authoritarianism under President Tayyip Erdogan but remains a strategically located partner that the EU cannot ignore.
In a sign that the diplomatic stand-off is easing at least between Athens and Ankara, NATO announced on Thursday that the two alliance members had set up a "military de-confliction mechanism" to avoid accidental clashes at sea.
The compromise struck at the summit that satisfied Cyprus was an agreement to review Turkey's behaviour in December and impose sanctions then if its "provocations" have not stopped.
(with inputs from agencies)