EU leaders agree to impose sanctions on Belarus

24th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

24 March 2006, BRUSSELS - Reacting to the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Belarus, European Union leaders on Friday agreed tougher measures aimed at President Aleksandr Lukashenko over the country's March 19 presidential elections widely seen as having been rigged.

24 March 2006

BRUSSELS - Reacting to the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Belarus, European Union leaders on Friday agreed tougher measures aimed at President Aleksandr Lukashenko over the country's March 19 presidential elections widely seen as having been rigged.

"On a continent of open and democratic societies, Belarus is a sad exception," said the 25 EU leaders in a declaration at the end of two-day summit in Brussels.

The EU "deplores" the failure of Belarus to allow free and fair elections, said the statement, adding that voting in the east European country had been "fundamentally flawed."

"The European Council has ... decided to take restrictive measures against those responsible for the violations of international electoral standards, including President Lukashenko," said the EU leaders.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said that sanctions, to be coordinated with the US and other partner countries, could extend the bloc's travel ban on leading politicians from Belarus.

She declined to give further details but diplomats have talked about freezing assets of the Belarus leadership.

EU leaders called for the immediate release of all those detained in Friday's police action.

"Their brave efforts to advance the cause of democracy in exceptionally difficult circumstances deserve our full recognition and support," said the EU statement.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson was especially outspoken in criticism of the Belarus government which he termed "the last dictatorship in Europe."

There was no longer any room for bilateral moves on Belarus, said the Swedish leader, adding: "We need to be firm and demonstrate we are united in the EU."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he would propose inviting the Belarus opposition leader, Aleksander Milinkevic, to a meeting of EU foreign minister in Luxembourg on April 10.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn cautioned that further sanctions aimed at Minsk would have to be carefully chosen. "If we speak about sanctions we have to be really sure that the target is not the people," he said.

Asselborn added that the EU had no illusions about the power of sanctions. "With sanctions we cannot change the regime," he said.

The most important thing was to "speak with our Russian friends" about the situation in Belarus, Asselborn said. Moscow and Minsk have close ties although earlier plans for a merger of both countries now appear to have been put on ice.

DPA

Subject: German news

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