EU Mulls Belarus Sanctions, Italy, Poland Against

EU leaders are considering toughening their stance against Belarus, including possible sanctions, in the wake of December presidential elections marred by violence and qualified by observers as neither free nor fair.

Just before Christmas, EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Catherine Ashton and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton issued a joint statement threatening to freeze ties with Belarus should the country fail to make palpable progress in the establishing of true democracy.

Over the past few years, the EU has warmed up to Belarus, and included it in its so-called Eastern Partnership program together with other ex-Soviet republics.

Now the European press reports that diplomats are set to meet Tuesday to discuss possible Belarusian assets freezes and travel bans for state officials, as an act of pressure against what happened in December's presidential elections, which left hundreds beaten up and imprisoned by security forces, including all of the opposition candidates to President Alexander Lukashenko.

Wednesday Belarusian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Martynov is set to visit Brussels to discuss bilateral relations.

It is reported that member states such as the UK, Germany and Sweden argue in particular for strong and decisive measures against Lukashenka.

Others, such as neighboring Lithuania, are for a more balanced stance. The position of Poland is ambivalent, as the country wants both to pressure the Belarusian government, as well as to protect the interests of the sizeable Polish minority in the ex-Soviet republic, which is facing suppression at the hands of those in power. In particular, Poland has liberalized the visa regime for Belarusian nationals and opened its university for fleeing Belarusian students.

Italy is also among the EU member states that favor a more careful approach to Lukashenka and Belarus. PM Silvio Berlusconi was on visit to Minsk in 2009, with the two countries having significant joint business project. Berlusconi's Italy is also having a particularly fond relationship - both politically and economically - with Russia, Belarus' great, if recently ambivalent, ally.


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