Russia's Lavrov calls on EU for talks, not sanctions, with Belarus

Moscow/Minsk - European Union sanctions against Belarus in response to its recent mass arrests of hundreds political opponents are 'counterproductive,' Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

The Belarusian regime's crackdown on its political enemies since late December is unacceptable, but travel restrictions just imposed by Brussels on Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko and senior members of his government will not improve the situation, Lavrov said.

'Only dialogue can advance economic reforms and strengthen democracy in Belarus,' Lavrov said. 'One-sided and politically- motivated sanctions only worsen the situation.'

Moscow however condemns the beatings, night-time arrests, and long-term detentions carried out by the Lukashenko's security forces in recent weeks against members of the opposition, he said.

Lukashenko should 'release the political prisoners,' Lavrov said.

The Council EU member states on Monday announced it was imposing travel restrictions and an asset freeze on persons 'responsible for (Belarus') fraudulent presidential elections ... and the subsequent violent crackdown on democratic opposition,' according to a joint statement.

EU ministers also decided to revive the suspended visa bans and some asset freezes on over 100 regime figures, including Lukashenko himself.

A Belarus' foreign ministry statement on Wednesday said Minsk was 'reviewing its options' on possible retaliatory steps against the EU, the Belapan news agency reported.

Lukashenko on Friday pre-emptively denounced the EU's sanctions, saying he had 'lived with them for years ... and they haven't affected my (Lukashenko's) health so far.'

The EU sanctions came in response to a Lukashenko victory in a December 19 presidential election, and his security forces' crackdown on opposition to his regime in following weeks.

More than 20,000 persons defied a Lukashenko ban on street protests to demonstrate against his election win. Police used force to break up the demonstration, arresting hundreds.

Around 25 senior members of the opposition have been charged with inciting riot and face potential jail terms of up to 15 years in prison.


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