LUXEMBOURG, Oct 25 (Reuters) - The European Union on Monday extended its suspension of visa restrictions for senior officials from Belarus, but did not lift the sanctions entirely because of concerns over human rights and democratic reforms.
The 27-member bloc imposed visa bans on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and dozens of other officials after he was accused of rigging his re-election in 2006. The bans were suspended in October 2008 in order to encourage reforms.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday said they remained concerned about a lack of improvements in election laws and media freedom in Belarus, and urged the Minsk government to ensure international standards for a December presidential ballot.
Minsk said it regretted that the EU had not removed the sanctions altogether but said "we welcome the (EU's) intention to continue the development of cooperation with Belarus", foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh said.
Lukashenko, who controls most media in the country of 10 million wedged between Russia and Poland, is expected to have little trouble winning the Dec. 19 election.
He has said he will allow international observers to monitor the vote, in a move welcomed in the West as a test of his willingness to improve democratic standards.
"The EU will closely monitor the developments and assess the situation after the election," the EU ministers said in a statement.
Travel sanctions and their suspension were extended until Oct. 31, 2011.
Addressing concerns over human rights, the ministers also urged Belarus to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty.