Brussels - The European Union is to boycott the inauguration of Belarus' authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, following a rigged election and crackdown on opposition figures, officials in Brussels said Thursday.
The EU is under pressure to react after elections on December 19 saw opposition leaders and activists being beaten up and arrested while Lukashenko claimed a fourth mandate, in a poll that was declared unfair by international observers.
'I can confirm that the (EU representative in Minsk) and the ambassadors of EU member states will not participate at the inauguration ceremony,' EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has condemned the post-election violence, telling the European Parliament on Wednesday that it was 'certainly an option' for the bloc to reinstate a visa ban on Lukashenko and his associates.
EU foreign ministers are due to hold their regular monthly meeting on January 31 and are expected to decide on sanctions at that point.
'We have made our position on the elections quite clear, and have most clearly also ... called for the release of all political prisoners and an immediate stop to the harassment of the opposition and civil society in Belarus,' Kocijancic said.
Separately, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for the reinstatement of the visa ban and for Belarus' suspension from the EU's Eastern Partnership, a set of cooperation initiatives with six former-Soviet states.