Belarus taken 'step backwards' says van Rompuy

President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy said in Warsaw today that the recent crackdown against the political opposition in Belarus was a "step backwards" for the ex-Soviet state and that this kind of action was "not acceptable in Europe."

Van Rompuy was on a one-day trip to the Polish capital, Monday, where he had talks with Prime Minister Donald Tusk and gave a speech at Warsaw University.

Referring to the mass arrests that followed protests against what was widely regarded as rigged elections in Belarus on 19 December, the EU leader said that "these kinds of things are not acceptable in Europe and the EU will take this into account when regarding its relations with Belarus".

Many nations have called for stern sanctions against the administration of President Lukashenko.

Polish Radio's IAR news service has learned that Poland has drawn up a black list of Belarusian officials responsible for the crackdown, including police, judges and politicians, who will be banned from entering the country from 31 January.

'Great challenge'

On Poland's membership in the European Union since 2004, Herman van Rompuy said that the country "had found its place" in the EU. "I would like to congratulate subsequent Polish governments and citizens. We are counting on the Polish presidency of the EU [in the second half of this year]."

The year 2011 will be "a great challenge" for Poland, he told an audience at Warsaw University but also a great responsibility. He said that he would promise Prime Minister Donald Tusk full support for the projects planned for the six-month presidency which Poland takes over from Hungary on 1 July.

After talks this afternoon, PM Tusk said that he was not counting out the possibility of Croatia joining the 27-nation bloc during Poland's presidency.

"A happy finale to the Polish presidency could be the accession of Croatia. It is quite likely [...] that this will be a reality, which is important to Poland," he told reporters.

Tusk also said that during Poland's presidency, combating the finance crisis which is affecting many EU states, notably Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal, is of vital importance.

In connection with a drive in Brussels to cut costs and control EU budget spending, Herman van Rompuy, a former prime minister of Belgium, tweeted on his way to Warsaw that he was "travelling economy class" on his many flights around Europe as president of the European Council, a role he took over in November 2009.


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