Visegrad, Germany warn Belarus' Lukashenko on human rights

Bratislava - The four Visegrad states and Germany strongly admonished authoritarian Belarus President Aleksander Lukashenko about human rights violations and threatened further sanctions on his country Thursday.

The warning came as the foreign ministers of the Visegrad group - Poland, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak republics - and Germany were holding a one-day meeting in the Slovakian capital Bratislava.

In their call, the five foreign ministers called on Lukashenko to release all political opponents and to adhere to fundamental democratic rights.

If the Minsk government continued to keep people under arrest for their political views, then 'additional targeted measures' against Belarus would be considered, they said.

In addition to the five countries represented, the Bratislava meeting was also attended by the European Union's top foreign policy official Catherine Ashton.

The Visegrad group takes its name from the town in northern Hungary where the founding member states first met on February 15, 1991.

The foreign ministers' statement came a day after a Belarusian court handed out harsh prison terms to three opposition leaders for their role in mass protest demos against Lukashenko after his re- election last December.

Lukashenko has been in power since 1994. International human rights groups have criticized conditions in Belarusian prisons as primitive and Lukashenko's election victory as almost certainly fraudulent.

Some two dozen senior members of the Belarusian opposition still face charges for their alleged role in the street protests. Almost all have been in jail without bail for more than two months.


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