By CONSTANT BRAND
Associated Press Writer
European Union leaders slapped expanded sanctions on Belarus on Friday and condemned a crackdown against opposition protesters in Minsk.
The 25 European leaders said the March 19 presidential vote that returned President Alexander Lukashenko to office was "fundamentally flawed," adding that they would "take restrictive measures against those ... responsible for the violation of international electoral standards."
They called Belarus a "sad exception ... on a continent of open and democratic societies."
The EU leaders lent their support to opposition groups in Belarus fighting for democratic reforms. "Their continuing and brave efforts to advance the cause of democracy in exceptionally difficult circumstances deserve our full recognition and support," they said.
EU officials say new sanctions against Belarus will probably include a travel ban against President Alexander Lukashenko.
Police detained hundreds of demonstrators early Friday who had spent a fourth night in a central square to protest Lukashenko's election victory.
The EU has already declared that the presidential vote, which gave Lukashenko a third consecutive term, was not free and fair and violated international democratic norms.
No economic sanctions are foreseen, officials have said, adding they want to focus their attention on political leaders rather than punishing Belarusians.