Belarusian opposition urges sanctions against Lukashenko government

Minsk/Kiev - Members of Belarus' political opposition on Monday urged the European Union to ignore recent conciliatory gestures by President Aleksander Lukashenko and to impose severe sanctions against his government.

Their appeal came as EU foreign ministers were set to vote later Monday on measures to punish the authoritarian regime for cracking down on the opposition after December's disputed presidential vote.

'Please, do everything you can to influence the Council of the European Union to impose the harshest possible sanctions,' the relatives of opposition leaders said in an open letter addressed to EU ministers.

'Stop this tyranny in the heart of Europe. Stop fascism in our country,' they said in a statement published on the website of the Belarusian human rights movement Charter 97.

The letter was signed by Irina Bogdanova and Eva Neklayeva. Bogdanova is the sister of Andrei Sannikov, former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov; Neklayeva is the daughter of another former presidential candidate, Vladimir Neklayev.

Sannikov and his wife, journalist Irina Khalip, were arrested on January 19 in connection with their participation in anti-government demonstrations against what is widely regarded as Lukashenko's fraudulent re-election.

Some 25 other opposition activists were arrested at the same time.

They all face charges of inciting riot and face prison sentences of up to 15 years.

Lukashenko on Sunday ordered three of the detainees - Khalip, Nekalyeva and Nekalyev - released from jail and put under house arrest.

'We plead with you not to pay attention to these 'gestures' by Lukashenko,' Nelkayeva said. 'It is just a game that he has played before. A leopard does not change its spots.'

KGB officers delivered Khalip home on Sunday evening. They evicted all relatives from the apartment except her 3-year-old son, Daniel, and her parents.

The family will now live with a pair of security officers, Bogdanova said.

'This is an inhuman attitude not just towards a little boy, but towards (Khalip's) aged parents. The entire family is under stress,' Bogdanova said.

Aleksander Milinkevich, a prominent and longtime critic of the Lukashenko regime, linked the recent release of political prisoners to what he claims are the president's fear of EU sanctions.

'Lukashenko is clearly worried by the severe and unified reaction of Europe against the way he conducted the presidential elections,' Milinkevich said in remarks published on the website of his Movement for Freedom party.


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