Belarus bans entry to Western officials

ISN SECURITY WATCH (Friday, 9 June 2006: 11.25 CET) - Belarus has drawn up a blacklist of foreign officials who will be denied entry to the country. The tit-for-tat move comes after the EU and the US banned Belarusian officials and denounced the re-election of President Aleksandar Lukashenko.

"Retaliatory measures have been introduced for the European Union and United States officials. They are based on the principle of reciprocity," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov told a press conference in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Thursday.

Popov did not reveal the names on the blacklist, but said they included "the most offensive political figures who have shown themselves to be in the forefront of not wishing our country well", and persons who have attempted to interfere in Belarus' internal affairs during the election campaign.

In late May, Belarus also threatened to block US and Canadian flights over its territory after the two countries refused to refuel a plane transporting Belarus' prime minister to and from Cuba.

On 16 May, Washington banned senior Belarusian officials and those with ties to the Belarusian government from traveling to the US.

The 19 March elections that saw Lukashenko win another term as president were denounced as fraudulent by the Belarusian opposition, international observers, and Western nations.

According to official results, Lukashenko won 83 per cent of the vote.

In April, Alexander Milinkevich, a main rival of Lukashenko's in the presidential poll, was jailed for 15 days for taking part in a demonstration initially sanctioned by the authorities.

US President George W. Bush said the ban on Belarusian officials applied to government officials "who formulate, implement, participate in, or benefit from policies or actions, including electoral fraud, human rights abuses, and corruption", and those who "undermine or injure democratic institutions or impede the transition to democracy in Belarus".

In late March, the EU declared Lukashenko and 30 other high-ranking officials "personae non grate".

(By ISN Security Watch staff, RFE/RL, Russian news agencies)