EU's Ashton calls for release of Belarus opposition activists

Brussels - European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned Monday the widespread crackdown against the Belarus opposition after a presidential vote on Sunday, and called for all that were arrested to be released 'immediately.'

'High Representative Ashton regrets that last night's events do not reflect the relative progress we had noted so far in the pre-election period,' a statement said.

Ashton said she condemned 'in particular the beating and detention of several opposition leaders including a number of presidential candidates.'

In recognition of that 'relative progress', for the past two years the EU has decided to suspend a visa ban that it previously put in place against Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko and 35 other officials.

Ashton's spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, did not rule out a re-imposition of the travel ban, after authorities reacted to protests against alleged fraud in Lukashenko's favour by arresting more than 1,000 activists and violently dispersing crowds.

But she stressed that the EU was waiting first for the preliminary report of international election observers, expected later on Monday.

'On the basis of what the observers will say ... we will see what conclusions we can draw for the relations between the EU and Belarus,' Kocijancic said.


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