Belarus retaliates against West with more sanctions

Belarus said on Thursday it had barred entry to European Union and U.S. officials in retaliation for a similar ban by Western countries to denounce President Alexander Lukashenko's re-election.Western countries, long critical of Lukashenko's tough line on dissent, dismissed as blatantly rigged Lukashenko's landslide victory in March, giving him a third term in office.

Both the EU and Washington barred the president and more than 30 other officials linked to the election. Sanctions also included a freeze of bank deposits held by officials abroad.

"Retaliatory measures have been introduced for the European Union and United States," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov said. "They are based on the principle of reciprocity."

Popov declined to reveal who was on the list.

"The list contains the most offensive political figures who have shown themselves to be in the forefront of not wishing our country well," he told reporters.

"These are people who actively interfered in Belarus's internal affairs during the election campaign. These are people who continue to appeal for the imposition of serious economic sanctions against our country."

Minsk had previously refrained from retaliatory moves, though it barred flights by aircraft carrying U.S. and Canadian delegations after those countries refused to refuel a plane taking Belarus's prime minister to and from Cuba. In Brussels, the foreign relations spokesman for the European Commission said no official notification had been received of the retaliatory measures.

"If it is true, it would be another sign of Belarus's self-imposed isolation," Emma Udwin said.

"It would not change our concerns about human rights in Belarus, it would not change our determination to build closer contacts with civil society in the country."

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has made it clear since his re-election that he has no intention of altering the policies.

Western countries accuse him of cracking down on opponents, closing down media not loyal to his administration and hounding independent cultural institutions. They also demand explanations for the disappearance of several prominent figures.