EU ready to renew Lukashenko entry ban

The members of the European Union have approved proposals to restore a travel ban on high-ranking Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko.

At a meeting in Brussels on Friday, EU ambassadors decided to launch procedures to reinstate the visa ban in response to Belarus's recent post-election crackdown on political opponents.

"We are heading towards lifting the suspension," AFP quoted one of the diplomats as saying on Friday.

The EU had slapped the ban on the Belarusian officials in 2006 following repressive measures against the opposition.

But the travel restrictions were suspended in 2008 because opposition members were freed.

A wide consensus was reached among the 27 envoys to "send a strong signal to Belarus and demand the immediate release of all people detained for political reasons," another diplomat said.

The Belarus Central Election Commission declared incumbent President Lukashenko the winner of the December 19 presidential election, saying he received nearly 80 percent of the vote.

Yet, tens of thousands of people challenged the election results and called it "electoral fraud." Belarus detained 600 demonstrators in Minsk during the protests that ensued.

At least seven of the presidential candidates were among the detainees.

Last week, Belarus ordered the closure of the Minsk office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in an apparent response to the transatlantic security group's stinging criticism of its presidential election.

The United States and the EU censured Belarus on Tuesday for ordering the closure of the OSCE office and urged it to release all detainees who protested the election results.


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