EU imposes sanctions on Belarus - diplomat

BRUSSELS, January 31 (Itar-Tass) - The European Union Council has taken a decision to impose an entry ban on Belarus, a diplomat told Itar-Tass on Monday.

The EU foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on Belarus, the diplomat said. The official statement will follow within hours, he added.

According to preliminary reports, the European Union will impose an entry ban on 158 Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko and his two senior sons - Viktor and Dmitry, the EU official said.

The main signal to President Lukashenko is to immediately free opposition candidates, who were detained during the rallies following the December 19 presidential elections, he said.

At the same time, the official noted that the ministers had to take a decision to impose an entry ban or not on Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov. In his words, many European countries call for continuing a dialogue with Belarus.

Meanwhile, he doubted that sanctions could also envision projects within the Eastern Partnership. These projects are designed to develop regional cooperation and improve living standards while the EU intends to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials responsible for a crackdown on the opposition and mass media.

The European Union imposed sanctions on Belarus after the presidential elections in March 2006 by accusing Lukashenko and his entourage of systematic violations of democratic rights and freedoms of citizens, as well as of repressions against the opposition and mass media.

The EU earlier imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator", and other Belarusian top officials following the 2006 presidential elections. The polls, described by international observers as fraudulent, saw large-scale protest demonstrations, which were brutally dispersed by police.

The ban was however suspended in 2008 in a move aimed to "encourage Belarus to move closer to the European Union". In October 2010, the Council of the European Union prolonged the suspension of an entry ban against President Lukashenko and 35 Belarusian government officials until October 31, 2011.

The Council of the EU reaffirms its readiness to deepen its relations with Belarus depending on developments in Belarus towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law as well as its readiness to assist the country in attaining these objectives, the EU foreign ministers said in their statement.

"The Council will continue its discussions on a joint interim plan to set the priorities for reforms, inspired by the Action Plans developed in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, to be implemented with Belarus," the statement said. "The EU could consider providing macro-financial assistance to Belarus, should the necessary preconditions be met, including the conclusion of a new program with the IMF."

The EU foreign ministers expressed concern over the democracy and human rights situation in Belarus. "The Council deeply regrets the lack of progress in the areas expressed in its previous conclusions, including the need for further reforms of the Electoral Code, the freedom of expression and of the media, the freedom of assembly and association," the statement said.

"The Council deplores the execution of two Belarusian citizens carried out in March 2010, regrets the recent death sentences in Belarus and continues to urge Belarus to introduce a moratorium on the use of death penalty with a view to its abolition," the statement read.

"In the light of this situation, the Council is not able to lift the restrictive measures in place against certain officials and therefore decides to extend them until 31 October 2011," the EU foreign ministers said. "However, in order to encourage progress in the areas identified by the EU, the Council decides at the same time to extend the suspension of the application of the travel restrictions until the same date. At the end of that period, the Council will review the restrictive measures in the light of the situation in Belarus. The Council may decide to reapply or lift travel restrictions at any time, in light of actions by the Belarusian authorities in the sphere of democracy and human rights."

The Council pledged to continue to provide support to Belarus' civil society in order to promote the development of a pluralistic and democratic environment in Belarus.

The Council called on the Belarusian government to ensure that the forthcoming presidential election is conducted in line with international norms and standards for democratic elections and Belarus` commitments as a member state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations. The Council welcomed the Belarusian government's decision to invite a mission of election observers of the OSCE Office for Democracy Institutions and Human Rights and urged full cooperation with the mission.


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