By Joanna Sopinska | Monday 31 January 2011
The rapid escalation of protests over the weekend against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, threatening the stability of the whole Northern African region, has overshadowed the EU foreign ministers' discussion on Belarus, on 31 January. Shortly after opening their meeting, the ministers adopted - without discussion - a decision on a set of sanctions against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's regime, including a travel ban and an asset freeze, leaving a discussion on the final wording of the conclusions for a later stage after the debate on Egypt and Tunisia, Europoliticshas learned.
The visa ban and the asset freeze target 158 people in total, including those already on the list of the initial restrictions following the 2004 and 2006 crackdowns and those responsible for the December 2010 repressions. According to diplomatic sources, it does not include Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov. The latest draft conclusions seen by Europoliticssay that "these restrictive measures and the list of persons targeted will be kept open and under constant review". They clearly state that any relaxation of restrictive measures could only be expected after the "release and rehabilitation of all people detained on political grounds". The document underlines the EU's "strong commitment to strengthening its engagement with the Belarusian people and civil society" and reiterates its demands for the "immediate release of those detained".
The discussion on Belarus was still ongoing when Europoliticswent to print. The comments ahead of the debate indicated that the ministers were determined to adopt a hard line, significantly redefining the Union's current policy. "Lukashenko has discredited himself completely. There are people who are suffering in jail because they were candidates in the election. This is unacceptable," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said upon his arrival to the meeting.