European Parliament Set To Condemn Belarus Crackdown

By Rikard Jozwiak

BRUSSELS -- Some of the biggest political groupings in the European Parliament are discussing a draft resolution on Belarus that will condemn the crackdown following last month's presidential election and call for a repeat of the disputed vote.

The meeting aims to come up with a joint resolution sponsored by the groups -- of liberals, socialists, and center-right and conservative Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) -- that have so far drawn up separate, but similar drafts.

The joint text will then be put to the full parliament for a vote on January 20 in Strasbourg.

The drafts condemn the crackdown on opposition candidates and protesters when police used force to break up demonstrations following the December 19 vote that returned President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to power.

The texts also call for a free and fair repeat of the election, which was criticized as flawed by international observers and western governments.

The draft by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), for example, urges the "Belarusian authorities to develop a clear roadmap for democratic reform that would lead to free and fair repeat of presidential elections with the assistance of the international institutions."

The drafts also urge more support for civil society in the country and back moves to provide more scholarships to the European Humanities University (EHU), based in Vilnius, for Belarusian students who were suspended from universities after taking part in protests.

There are also unanimous calls for a reopening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in Minsk that was shut down by Belarusian authorities.

Some Parties Calling For Economic Sanctions

Both the Liberals and the center-right European People's Party (EPP) want various forms of economic repercussions for Lukashenka's regime. The Liberals are calling for targeted sanctions on Belarusian government-owned companies and the EPP is urging a freeze of all macro financial aid provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as lending operations by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The two parties are also opposed to Belarus hosting the World Ice Hockey Championships in 2014 if the country still holds political prisoners. The president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, mooted the idea of an international boycott of Belarus in big sporting events last week.

Minsk's future participation in the EU's Eastern Partnership has come under intense scrutiny since the crackdown. ALDE has been pushing for a suspension of high-level visits by Belarusian politicians under the cooperation framework while the EPP wants to "suspend Belarusian participation in the Eastern Partnership activities until genuine changes will take place in Belarus, starting with unconditional liberation of all members of political opposition."

The center-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) favor an end to high-level contacts with Belarusian authorities. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, however, has already has ruled out any changes in the Eastern Partnership structure.

The S&D is in agreement with ALDE, EPP and the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) in calling for a resumption of a visa ban on top Belarusian officials, as well as expanding it to people directly involved in the latest repressions.

The only group that has a different view on reimposing a visa ban is the left-wing Confederal Group of the European United Left (GUE). It argues that an independent and transparent investigation, possibly led by the EU, is needed first. The grouping might put forward an alternative resolution ahead of the January 18 vote, but that would likely not be approved.

This week's debate and vote come after the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee last week called for a revision of Brussels' policy toward Minsk.

The resolution by the European Parliament -- if adopted as expected on January 20 -- would be largely symbolic. But it would likely spur other EU institutions to change their relationship with the regime in Minsk, starting with EU foreign ministers, who are expected to decide on visa sanctions on January 31.

There are 34 Belarusian officials on the current visa-sanctions list, which the EU imposed following a disputed election in 2006. The ban was suspended in 2008 as Brussels tried to convince Lukashenka that democratic reform would bring benefits to his country.


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