Czechs call for tough EU sanctions against Lukashenko's Belarus

Prague - Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said Monday that the European Union must contemplate 'a very tough stance' towards Belarus following the latest wave of political repression there.

'I cannot imagine having friendly relations with Belarus as long as opposition politicians sit in jail,' Schwarzenberg told reporters after meeting representatives of the Belarusian opposition.

'As long as this situation lasts, Belarus is not a partner for the European Union,' he said.

The authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko cracked down violently on political dissent after he won re-election in mid-December polls.

Opposition leaders and protesters were beaten up by state security forces and jailed.

The delegation visiting Prague as part of its European tour included Eva Neklyaeva, daughter of the jailed poet and opposition presidential candidate, Vladimir Neklyaev, who according to his family nearly died in prison less than two weeks ago.

Some EU countries have suggested that the 27-member bloc reimposes a travel ban on representatives of Lukashenko's regime as punishment for the latest repression.

EU ambassadors are set to debate potential sanctions on Friday, Schwarzenberg said. If they fail to agree, the bloc's foreign ministers must make the decision on January 31, he added.

The Czech Republic, a former Communist country, has strongly supported the Belarusian opposition. The Interior Ministry said Monday that it is ready to grant asylum to victims of the recent crackdown.


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