By : dpa
Brussels/Strasbourg, France - European Union officials expressed serious concern Wednesday at reports of an ongoing crackdown against the opposition in Belarus, where President Aleksandr Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist since 1995.
Scores of activists, including opposition writer Vladimir Nekliaev, a proclaimed opponent in the upcoming presidential election, have been arrested as a result of nationwide police raids, opposition spokesmen said.
"We are very concerned about the news," said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
"We'll ask for explanations," she added.
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek intervened from Strasbourg, France, where the assembly is meeting in plenary session.
"I call on the Belarus authorities to stop immediately all repression and intimidation of civil society groups and to get back on the way to democratisation," he said in a statement.
Buzek hails from Poland, a neighbour of Belarus and one of the EU's loudest defenders of opposition movements in the country.
The EU decided in late 2008 to suspend a visa ban against top Belarussian officials in a bid to encourage Lukashenko to move closer to the bloc.
The thaw in relations paved the way for Lukashenko to be invited in Eastern Partnership, a cooperation initiative involving the EU and post-Soviet states launched in May 2009.
But Buzek stressed that the visa ban decision is up for review later this year.
Another EU lawmaker, German liberal Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, urged Ashton to "undertake a full review of relations between Belarus and the European Union" if authorities in Minsk "continue with these repressive measures."
Ashton's spokeswoman said Belarus should respect the "commitments enshrined in the joint declaration on the Easter Partnership," which also cover human rights, but said nothing about the visa ban.