EU says may toughen sanctions against Belarus

MOSCOW, Feb 1 (PRIME-TASS) -- The E.U. may toughen sanctions against Belarus in the event of further crackdowns on the opposition, Catherine Ashton, the E.U. high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said late Monday, ITAR-TASS reported.

Foreign ministers of the 27 E.U. member-states banned 160 Belarusian officials from entering the E.U. while freezing their assets in European banks, Ashton said confirming earlier unofficial reports. The list of officials is headed by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his two eldest sons, Viktor and Dmitry.

The sanctions against the Belarusian government were imposed as a response to its crackdown on opposition protestors in December 2010.

In December 2010, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Belarusian capital Minsk to protest the incumbent Lukashenko's re-election to a fourth consecutive term as president, arguing that the results had been rigged, Russian online newspaper reported earlier. Riot police dispersed the protesters, injuring and arresting many of them; seven of the nine opposition candidates were arrested while some were allegedly assaulted by the police, the online newspaper reported then.

The U.S. has also imposed sanctions against a number of Belarusian officials, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley said in a statement late Monday. The U.S. has expanded travel bans on officials responsible for the December crackdowns as well as their families, according to the statement. Names of those subject to the sanctions were not provided.

The Belarusian foreign ministry criticized E.U. foreign ministers for not taking into account the aggressive actions of the protesters, who tried to seize the offices of the Belarusian parliament after the presidential elections. The ministry emphasized that Belarus was interested in enhancing its relationship with the E.U.


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