Belarus promises tough response to sanctions

MINSK, Jan 20 (Reuters) - President Alexander Lukashenko warned on Thursday he would take tough countermeasures against states that imposed sanctions on Minsk following his recent disputed re-election, according to state-run media.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet republic since 1994, did not say what action Minsk could take. Belarus retains a command-based economy and swings between courting Moscow and seeking to repair relations with the West that have been strained by his human rights policies.

A fifth of Russian gas supplied to Europe transits Belarus, as does a significant portion of Russian oil. Belarus is currently locked in an oil price dispute with Moscow that could itself have implications for European deliveries.

European traders say the spat has already resulted in Minsk suspending diesel exports to Europe, although Belarus insists supplies have not been cut. Gasoil spot prices have risen almost 7 percent from the start of the year to $822.75 per tonne. [ID:nLDE70J0AJ]

Western governments have urged Lukashenko to free scores of activists including four challengers for the presidency rounded up during mass protests after a December presidential election the opposition denounced as fraudulent.

The United States and the European Union have said they could reinstate sanctions, including possibly a visa ban on the president and his top aides.

"If someone tries to introduce economic or other sanctions against (our) country we must react immediately and prepare countermeasures including the toughest ones," state news agency BelTA quoted Lukashenko as telling a government meeting.

The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus after a disputed ballot in 2006 but suspended their application in 2008 to encourage democratic reforms in a country of 10 million.

"We will not bow to anyone... This applies to absolutely everyone who tries to pressure and block the country (Belarus), be it a particular group of countries or even the European Union as a whole," Lukashenko added.

Lukashenko, due to be inaugurated on Jan. 21, accused German and Polish security services earlier this month of plotting a coup against him.

(Writing by Olzhas Auyezov)


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