US, EU slap sanctions on Belarus officials

Washington and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for the fourth time following a victory in the January election.

The US State Department slapped several Belarusian officials on Monday with a round of sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the 27-nation bloc has decided to impose an asset freeze and visa ban on 158 top Belarus officials, including the country's president.

Lukashenko was sworn in at the Palace of the Republic in the capital Minsk on January 21, vowing to serve his nation and also "respect and preserve the rights and freedom of people and citizens."

"Assuming the office of President of the Republic of Belarus, I solemnly swear to faithfully serve the people of the Republic of Belarus, to respect and protect the rights and freedoms of citizens, to respect and defend the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, and faithfully perform the high duties assigned to me," Lukashenko said as he took the oath of office.

During his inauguration, the 56-year-old Belarusian leader warned that no dissent will be tolerated.

Belarus "has exhausted the limits of revolutions and upheavals" and his government will "safeguard security and stability against plots from within and outside the country," Lukashenko said.

Absent from the swearing-in ceremony were the ambassadors of the United States, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Lithuania and nine other EU member states.

The envoys had left Minsk a day earlier in protest at the result of December 19 vote, which they criticized as fraudulent and rigged.

Lukashenko has on various occasions accused Poland and Germany of orchestrating an uprising to drive the Belarus president from power. Both Warsaw and Berlin reject the allegations as baseless.

Lukashenko won nearly 80 percent of the votes in the last month's poll, sparking anti-government rallies and riots. More than 20,000 Belarusians took to the streets to protest his re-election.

The Belarusian government subsequently ordered a crackdown on the demonstrations and a large number of opposition leaders and activists were detained during post-election protests.

Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet republic of Belarus since July 20, 1994.


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