Belarus threatens 'travel ban' retaliation against Poland

Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov has threatened Poland with retaliation should the country impose its planned entry ban on members of President Lukashenko's regime.

The Polish government said it would impose the restrictions in the wake of allegedly rigged presidential elections in Belarus in December and the police crackdown on protests that followed.

"If such a decision is taken, it will be very unfortunate and Poland should be aware that we will have no choice but to reciprocate," stated Martynov in Brussels, Wednesday.

The foreign minister assured, however, of Minsk's will to strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries that "share extensive links."

"Poland is an important partner for Belarus. We have many common interests in various fields, ranging from the diversification and transit of energy, to combating contraband and organized crime. It is our intention to continue relations with Poland and maintain joint economic projects," Martynov said.

Minister Martynov was in Brussels for a meeting with High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

"Catherine Ashton insisted on immediate release of all political detainees and the immediate cessation of persecution of the opposition, representatives of democratic forces and civil society," an EU in Belarus told to the Belarusian Telegraf web site.

Seven of the ten candidates in the presidential elections were arrested following the vote on 19 December, which the Belarusian election commission claims Lukashenko won with just under an 80 percent vote share, a result disputed by observers from the OSCE, EU and other bodies.

Around 700 people were arrested in the crackdown that followed, including 30 journalists, in an attempt at an authoritarian show of strength by Lukashenko, who has been in power in Belarus for 16 years.

Authorities in Minsk closed down the private Avtoradio radio station yesterday, accusing it of "extremist behaviour" after a guest on one programme called for more protests by the opposition.

The EU is currently trying to come up with a united response to the Lukashenko regime, with the UK and other countries calling for stiff measures to be taken against what a former US secretary of state once described as "the last dictator in Europe".


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