Crackdown on Poles brings Belarus onto EU foreign ministers' agenda

Brussels - European Union foreign ministers are set to reassess relations with Belarus next week - after a crackdown on an ethnic Polish group renewed doubts over the country's democratic credentials, an official indicated Thursday. Over the past few days police arrested tens of activists from the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB), including its leader Angelika Boris, sparking angry reactions from the government in Warsaw and a note of condemnation from the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

On Thursday eightwere arrested, according to the UPB, as they attempted to attend a hearing for Boris.

Ashton's spokesman, Lutz Gullner, said the plight of the Polish minority in Belarus was set to be one of the items on the agenda of Monday's Foreign Affairs Council.

"What is important is that it will be discussed," he stressed.

On Tuesday Ashton said she was "disappointed" by recent arrests and deplored "what appear to be attempts by the authorities to impose a new leadership on the Polish community.

Guellner said Ashton had "not yet" spoken directly to Belorussian officials.

"It could be later today or in the next few days," he explained.

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.

The latests acts of repression could call into question recent ouvertures towards Minsk, such as its inclusion in the EU's Eastern Partnership, a scheme aimed at improving economic ties with a number of former-Soviet states in return for democratic reforms.

In her statement, Ashton warned that moves against the UPB "undermine our efforts to strengthen relations between the European Union and Belarus."


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