European Parliam to consider sanctions against Belarus officials

STRASBOURG, January 20 (Itar-Tass) - Members of the European Parliament will consider a resolution that envisages the imposition of severe sanctions against the Belarusian authorities.

According to observers, the main intrigue of the voting will be possible approval of amendments relating to the personal responsibility of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko for the erosion of democratic principles in Belarus.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton during a debate at the session of the supreme legislative body of the EU on Wednesday confirmed her readiness for the imposition of sanctions against the Belarusian leader.

The European Commission may deny entry to the EU to President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko if the detained opposition members are not released, said Baroness Ashton.

"The events which followed the elections in Belarus on 19 December have come as a shock to all of us," Ashton told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. "The time has come to act." According to her, undoubtedly, there were serious violations during the election, it was confirmed by international observers.

President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek for his part has repeatedly said that the country's government has no democratic legitimacy. He also urged to radically revise the EU's policy towards Minsk.

Belarus security services detained several hundred oppositionists at an unauthorised rally in the republic's capital after the presidential election in December. By some estimates, more than 30 people currently remain in detention.

On Tuesday, Germany's human rights commissioner Markus Loening said he expects tougher sanctions of the European Union against the Belarus authorities. It is important for the EU to make a signal, he said after his visit to Belarus, where he studied the situation after the presidential elections. In late January EU foreign ministers plan to discuss additional sanctions against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and his team. Markus Loening expects that Lukashenko will again face a ban to visit EU countries. This measure will be taken against much more civil servants than it had been done before. At present, there are over 10 high-ranking officials from Belarus on the EU blacklist.

A presidential election was held in Belarus on 19 December 2010. The election was originally planned for the beginning of 2011. However, the final date was set during an extraordinary session of the National Assembly of Belarus on September 14, 2010. Of the 10 candidates, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner by the Central Electoral Commission with 79.67 percent of the votes, though opposition supporters decried the election. The inauguration ceremony will be held by February 19, 2011.

Up to 700 opposition activists, including 7 presidential candidates, were arrested in the post election crackdown. Furthermore, at least 25 journalists were arrested. Twenty of the leading opposition figures were facing charges of "organising or participating in a public order disturbance" which is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. The presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyayev, who had been seriously beaten during the evening of the election day, was taken from the hospital by men in civilian clothing who wrapped him in a blanket on his hospital bed and carried him away as his wife screamed. Grigory Kostusev and Dmitry Uss were re-summoned for further question by the KGB after being initially released. Kostusev responded to the state reaction saying "the regime has shown its true essence. We've been thrown 10 years into the past." Irina Khalip, Andrei Sannikov's wife, was also arrested.

Lukashenko criticised the protesters accusing them of "banditry" and saying that "the vandals and hooligans lost their human face. They simply turned into beasts. You saw how our law-enforcers behaved. They stood firm and acted exclusively within the bounds of the law. They defended the country and people from barbarism and ruin. There will be no revolution or criminality in Belarus." He also added that he could not imagine what more he could have done to make the election more democratic.

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said in an official statement that "unfortunately, the trend set by the relative progress during the campaigning period was not followed by a transparent and fair polling process. It is especially regrettable that election night was marred by violence, which I strongly condemn. In particular, the beating and detention of several opposition leaders, including presidential candidates, is unacceptable." President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek added that "beating independent election candidates is unacceptable. The action was outrageous." He also launched a European Parliamentary investigation into the election.


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