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EU Lawmakers Call For Wider Belarus Sanctions

May 12, 2011

By Rikard Jozwiak

BRUSSELS --The European Parliament has called on the European Union to expand sanctions on Belarus over its crackdown on the opposition.

The call came in a resolution endorsed overwhelmingly by the chamber in Strasbourg on May 12.

All major political parties voted for the joint text that calls for the introduction of targeted economic sanctions against state-owned enterprises and an extension of restrictive measures against the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The document also supports an increase of the European Union's assistance to democratic opposition parties, civil society organizations, and independent media outlets.

The EU slapped travel bans and asset freezes on nearly 170 people, including Lukashenka, earlier this year in the wake of Minsk's violent crackdown on the opposition following Lukashenka's disputed reelection in December.

But Belarus has continued to put prominent opposition figures on trial -- including, to date, five of the candidates who challenged Lukashenka in the December 19 vote.

Charles Tannock is a member of the European Parliament from Britain who co-sponsored the resolution on Belarus. He told RFE/RL ahead of today's vote that the resolution could "keep the pressure up" on Belarus and continue to put the country under the international spotlight.

"The feeling is that matters have not improved, so the European Parliament understandably takes a very close interest in the Lukashenka regime and believes that it is sensitive to international opinion," Tannock said.

Arrests, Trials Arrested

The resolution condemns all convictions of opposition figures since the election, calling them "arbitrary and politically motivated."

It notes that "the authorities failed to prove the guilt of the accused, the trials were held behind closed doors, detainees were refused the opportunity to call their witnesses and to meet discretely and on a regular basis with their legal representation."

It also calls for "the immediate and unconditional release of all protesters still under custody and for dropping all charges against them."

It describes the charges against the former presidential candidates, including Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu, Vital Rymasheuski, Mikalay Statkevich, Dzmitry Vus, and Andrey Sannikau, as "illegal and inadmissible" and urges the Belarusian authorities to acquit the candidates and free them from any further persecution.

The European Parliament also expressed concern about the situation for human rights defenders and independent media.

The document also urges the authorities to stop the impending closure of the "Narodnaya volya" and "Nasha niva" weeklies, and to refrain from limiting the access to two independent portals, Charter '97 and Belorussky Partizan.

Power Of 'Embarrassment'

It's the third time this year the parliament has adopted a resolution condemning the Belarus crackdown.

Despite the nonbinding power of the resolution, Tannock said he believed that the European Parliament can play a role in pushing for reforms in countries like Belarus.

"We are seen internationally as one of the kind of icons in terms of supporting fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law globally," Tannock said.

"I am not saying that necessarily changes the policies of these governments, but it will embarrass them and it will alert other people who take an interest in what we say and do to what's going on in these countries. I am always surprised actually how often and how seriously third countries all over the world read the resolutions, particularly about them."

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/eu_lawmakers_call_for_wider_belarus_sanctions/24099614.html

Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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