EU diplomats push for sanctions against Belarus over crackdown

Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and Poland support sanctions against Belarus over the post-election crackdown on the opposition, a diplomatic source said on Monday.

"Germany, Poland, Sweden and the UK are saying: 'Yes. We have tried hard to create a dialogue with Belarus. But now we have to react hard as well," the EU Observer quoted a diplomatic source as saying.

More than 600 people, including opposition leaders, were detained in the Belarusian capital during a police crackdown on demonstrators after the December 19 presidential vote that the opposition said had been rigged.

The United States and the European Union have called on Belarusian authorities to immediately release opposition activists who were arrested during the protests.

The EU diplomats launched a procedure to reinstate a travel ban against the Belarusian leader and top government officials at a high-level meeting in Brussels on Friday.

According to diplomatic sources, the list of Belarusian officials facing the ban could be extended to over 100 people.

The final decision is to be taken at the meeting of EU foreign ministers on January 31. A consensus of all 27 EU member states is required for the measure.

Meanwhile, Italy is opposing the sanctions against Belarus. Spain and Portugal are also cautious about the move, the source said.

Western nations, including the United States, introduced sanctions against the country and travel bans on President Lukashenko and Belarusian officials following the 2006 presidential elections which they called fraudulent.

The ban was however suspended in 2008 in a move aimed to "encourage Belarus to come closer to the European Union."

In October 2010, the Council of the European Union prolonged the suspension of an entry ban against President Lukashenko and 35 Belarusian government officials until October 31, 2011.

Lukashenko, 56, who has ruled Belarus with an iron rod since 1994 and has been dubbed by the United States "Europe's last dictator" for a clampdown on opposition and dissent, won 79.67% of the vote on December 19. International monitors said the election was "flawed."

BRUSSELS, January 10 (RIA Novosti)


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