Aug. 19 (UPI) -- The European Union on Wednesday said it's didn't recognize the results of the Belarusian presidential election, which has spurred growing protests in the country.
The ruling body of the EU, the European Council, determined the Aug. 9 election was "neither free nor fair."
"The people in Belarus know what they want ... that's why we want an independent path for Belarus where the political conditions are decided by the country itself," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting of the EU heads of state.
The results of election, which saw Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko win a sixth-consecutive term, was met with demonstrations decrying possible election fraud. The European Council condemned violence by authorities against what it described as "peaceful" protests.
The council called for the released of all those detained unlawfully and an investigation into all allegations of abuse.
The council imposed sanctions on those responsible for violence, and the falsification of election results.
"The European Union stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus. And we don't accept impunity," European Council President Charles Michel said.
"The protests in Belarus are not about geopolitics. This is about the right of the people to freely elect their leadership."
The EU had to consider how its response to the crisis in Belarus might provoke that nation's strongest ally, Russia. Lukashenko has reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help since his country has spiraled into mass demonstrations.
In a YouTube video Tuesday, presidential candidate and main opposition leader Sviatlana Heorhiyeuna Tsikhanouskaya urged the EU to avoid recognizing Lukashenko as the winner, saying he has lost legitimacy and support in Belarus.
"I call on you not to recognize these fraudulent elections," she said. "In order to facilitate a peaceful transition of power in my country, I have initiated the National Coordination Council of Belarus. It will lead the process of peaceful transition of power via dialogue. It will immediately call for new fair and democratic presidential elections with international supervision."
Michel has said Belarusians must determine their own future without "outside interference," but urged an end to violence against opposition protesters.
Michel, Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron all spoke to Putin about their desire not to get involved and encouraged open dialogue between Lukashenko and opposition leaders.
"We don't know what Russia is going to do but militarily it is very hard to see Russia supporting Lukashenko," Judy Dempsey, an analyst at the Carnegie Europe think tank, said. "It would be unbelievably counterproductive."