EU's Ashton condemns crackdown on Polish activists in Belarus

Brussels - The European Union's foreign-policy director on Tuesday criticized the arrest in Belarus of members of an ethnic Polish organization, condemning police action against the group. The EU is torn between pushing for closer ties with the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko and condemning its ongoing crackdown on groups seen as hostile to the government.

"I am disappointed by the recent arrests of 40 members of the Union of Poles and other civil society representatives in Belarus ... I condemn police action against the Union of Poles and what appear to be attempts by the authorities to impose a new leadership on the Polish community," Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

The Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB) pushes for the rights of the ethnic Polish minority in the former-Soviet republic. On Monday, police arrested a large number of members of the banned group, including its leader, Angelika Borys.

The EU in May invited Belarus to join its newly-created Eastern Partnership, a scheme aimed at improving economic ties with a number of former-Soviet states in return for democratic reforms.

Ashton warned that the rapprochement could damage those efforts.

"The success of this engagement is conditional on steps towards democratisation and upholding human rights, including minority rights, taken by the government of Belarus," she said.

The moves against the UPB "undermine our efforts to strengthen relations between the European Union and Belarus," she said. DPA


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