Belarus bars 150 EU, US officials in tit-for-tat spat


BRUSSELS -- Belarus on Monday answered broadened sanction by the European Union by imposing its own restrictions on travel to the former Soviet republic by senior EU and US officials.

The EU announced Monday that it would add 19 more officials to a list of some hundred Belarusian leaders - including President Aleksander Lukashenko - already subject to a ban on travel and a freeze on assets.

"An additional 19 Belarus officials will be included in the lists of persons subject to restrictive measures," the EU said as EU ministers were meeting in Brussels.

The Brussels decision was taken after some of the Belarusian opposition leaders and civil society representatives arrested in a December crackdown received long prison sentences.

The EU's travel ban and asset freeze is set to enter into force on March 22, when the names of the 19 Belarusian officials will be published in the EU's official journal.

Just hours after the EU issued its statement, Minsk announced that it would ban the travel of 150 senior US and EU officials to Belarus, with EU Parliament President Jerzy Buzek heading the "black list," the Interfax news agency reported.

A government statement said the travel bans, which included a few Western journalists, were imposed because of "particularly horrific actions" against the Belarusian state.

Lukasheko, once dubbed by Washington "the last dictator in Europe," threatened "adequate retaliation" for the initial travel ban agreed to by the EU January.

Interfax reported that Lukashenko's government intends to cancel cross-border cooperation projects currently in progress with the EU and to ban most foreign non-governmental organizations.

Lukashenko in December ordered the closure of the Minsk office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), after the OSCE harshly criticized the December 19 election in which he won a fourth term in office.

More than 25,000 people defied a ban on public gatherings to protest his victory, only to be attacked by police and army troops.

"Such developments represent a further worsening of the human rights situation in Belarus and are in utter contradiction with respect for core international commitments endorsed by Belarus," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Friday.


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