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EU foreign ministers to consider sanctions against Belarus

RIA Novosti

01:21 31/01/2011 BRUSSELS, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - The European Union's foreign ministers will consider sanctions against Belarus at their meeting in Brussels on Monday.

The 27-member EU is preparing to introduce new sanctions against the Belarusian leadership following a brutal clampdown on opposition leaders and protesters.

More than 600 people were arrested - many after being beaten - when they took to the streets to protest the re-election of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in December that the opposition called rigged. Most were held for up to 15 days and were then released, but some are still jailed.

The European Parliament recently adopted a resolution calling for immediate sanctions including a travel ban and asset freeze for Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron rod since 1994, and over 100 other officials.

The West has called on Lukashenko, once dubbed by the United States "Europe's last dictator," to release all opposition candidates and their supporters, but the president has said he is not afraid of sanctions.

Under the European Parliament's resolution, senior government officials and members of the judiciary and security agencies responsible for rigging the elections and persecuting the opposition would face a ban on visas and a freeze on bank accounts held on EU territory.

Lukashenko and 40 other officials were initially banned from entering the EU in 2006, but restrictions were suspended two years later amid signs of a tentative political thaw in Belarus.

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