EU to suspend Belarus sanctions: France
European Union nations have agreed to suspend sanctions against Belarus after elections won by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko passed off without incident, a French minister said Monday.
"We have taken the decision to suspend the sanctions for the next four months but they can be reinstated immediately if that is required," France's European Affairs minister Harlem Desir told reporters after a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
EU sources later said that while there was political consensus on suspending the sanctions among the 28 member states there had not been a formal agreement, which would be made later in the month before the sanctions expire on October 31.
The EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes against Lukashenko and around 170 other individuals and 14 groups for rights abuses.
Lukashenko, 61, won a fifth consecutive term by a landslide and pointedly warned the opposition against protests that could derail the lifting of the EU sanctions.
A shrewd operator whom Washington once dubbed "Europe's last dictator," Lukashenko has recently raised his standing with the EU by seeking to distance his ex-Soviet nation from Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
The EU's Belarus sanctions officially come up for renewal on October 31 when the plan is to extend and then immediately suspend them until February.
Brussels will review progress in January to see if Lukashenko has gone back on any of his promises.
Desir, standing in for French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at an EU meeting in Luxembourg, said the decision followed the president's release of the last political prisoners in Belarus over the summer, and the fact that the elections, easily won by Lukashenko, passed off without incident.
"We want to encourage this country to move towards democracy and of course towards respect for human rights ... the release of the prisoners was for us a very important signal," Desir said.
"The vote took place in a calm atmosphere although we are still waiting for observer reports to come to a final conclusion," he added.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote had been undermined by "significant problems," especially during the count.
"It is clear that Belarus still has a long way to go towards fulfilling its democratic commitments," Kent Harstedt, head of the OSCE mission to Belarus, said in a statement.
© 2015 AFP