Germany expresses "great concern" at political crackdown in Belarus

Berlin/Minsk - Germany on Monday repeated its condemnation of the violent political crackdown after elections in Belarus, and expressed 'great concern' at health reports relating to captured opposition leaders.

'The German government demands the immediate release of all political prisoners,' said government spokesman Christoph Steegmans, adding that access to family members, legal counsel and medical care whilst in captivity were 'elementary' requirements.

'The events are a serious setback and there is no more hope of intensifying relations between the European Union and Belarus,' Steegmans added.

In coming days the EU would have to discuss its political response to events in Belarus, Steegmans said, without indicating what form this response would take.

EU Foreign Ministers would discuss the issue at their next summit at the end of January, a foreign ministry spokesman added. One option was the resumption of EU sanctions against Belarus.

Berlin has twice summoned the ambassador of Belarus since the December 19 reelection of President Aleksander Lukashenko, insisting that the electoral manipulation and subsequent treatment of political opponents were unacceptable.

The German government comments came while in Minsk, the Belapan agency reported that opposition presidential candidate Vitaly Rymashevski, 35, was freed two weeks after his arrest in the post- election demonstrations.

He was among around 150 people to be released Monday, out of the more than 630 people arrested on December 19.

Rymashevski, was was badly beaten up by police during his arrest, had been sentenced to 15 days in jail. But other presidential candidates who were arrested face up to 15 years in prison.

Lawyers for those arrested announced a suit to challenge the prison conditions their clients were subjected to. But Minsk prosecutors rejected relatives' complaints, saying the conditions in the erstwhile KGB prison were the norm.


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