EU threatens Belarus sanctions

Brussels has threatened sanctions against Belarus if the upcoming presidential elections are not free and fair.

EU foreign affairs chief Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that the commission would take "restrictive measures against the responsible individuals if the elections are not conducted in a democratic manner".

The Austrian commissioner was speaking after one of the presidential candidates, Aleksander Kozulin, was beaten and detained by Belarusian police officers, just three weeks before the vote on March 19.

Current Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko has warned the EU not to interfere in the election process, and remains defiant about the threat of sanctions.

"It is not for [the EU] to teach us about human rights. Let them deal with their own affairs," he said.

Ferrero-Waldner said that the commission had "consistently encouraged the Belarusian authorities to abide by international standards and : ensure equal campaigning rights to all candidates".

But the latest report by election monitors in Minsk reveals "a number of serious short comings, including the detention of campaign activists, searches of campaign offices, confiscation of campaign materials and interruption of campaign meetings".

Aleksander Milinkevich, the leader of the Belarusian opposition, said that the government was resorting to repression because they could not win a democratic election.

Poland has already said that it will not recognise Lukashenko's right to the presidency if voters are shown to have been intimidated.

EU-sponsored broadcasts began transmitting into Belarus last week with the aim of offering an alternative view of national and international events in the run up to the elections.