European leaders criticize Lukashenko

BRATISLAVA -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her colleagues from the Visegrad Group countries (V4) condemned Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.

They called for the release of all political prisoners in that country.

The prime ministers of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, which are the member countries of the V4 met on Tuesday to mark the 20th anniversary of the group, and they were joined by Merkel, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

All officials, except Azarov, signed a statement demanding from Lukashenko to stop political repression and harassment of the opposition, independent media and civil society, the AP news agency reported.

Lukashenko won the December 19 presidential election with nearly 80 percent of the vote.

The election, considered fraudulent by the opposition, was followed by mass protests, during which seven of nine opposition candidates were arrested.

In the statement, the leaders also expressed their concern over a significant increase in food and energy prices, and called for a common EU policy to resolve the problem.


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