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EU to Boycott Belarus Presidential Inauguration

VOA News 20 January 2011

European ambassadors are boycotting Friday's inauguration of President Alexander Lukashenko to protest his government's crackdown on political opponents and human rights activists.

The boycott came a day after European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton signaled travel bans could be applied to Belarus officials until the government releases all political prisoners, and stops harassment of opposition members.

U.S. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said the United States, Europe and others must mount a firm response to the crackdown on opposition in Belarus followin Mr. Lukashenko's disputed re-election. Cardin, who co-chairs the the US Helsinki Commission, issued a statement Thursday calling for the immediate and unconditional release of impiosned journalists and opposition activists.

Mr. Lukashenko has threatened to take retaliatory measures if the EU imposed any sanctions.

He also accused Germany and Poland of trying to oust him by supporting his political opponents, which both countries denied.

Belarus' presidential elections on Dec. 19 were widely viewed in the West as fraudulent. Mass protests in Belarus against the vote were met with violent repression and widespread detentions.

Russia's state-run news agency Itar-Tass reports that the Russian ambassador will attend the inauguration ceremony.

Demonstrations against Mr. Lukashenko's government have stretched as far as New York.

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