ROUNDUP Germany and Poland say Belarus violence is "serious setback"

Berlin - Germany condemned Belarus on Monday for its wide-ranging crackdown on government opponents, after a presidential election at the weekend returned Aleksander Lukashenko to power.

'The German government calls for the immediate release of arrested opposition politicians and media representatives,' said Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.

Uniformed police and plain clothes KGB agents arrested more than 1,000 members of the opposition after the election, authorities and opposition leaders confirmed.

Seibert said the way in which authorities had dealt with the election and its results were 'a test for further relations between the European Union and Belarus.'

'In this context the events of the last hours are a serious setback. They rule out any further convergence at present,' Seibert said of EU relations with Belarus, adding that the elections had not met the criteria set to receive billions of euros of EU aid.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski issued a joint statement expressing regret that the elections did not meet free and fair criteria, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

'When we visited Minsk last month, we urged the Belarusian leadership to carry out the elections in line with international standards,' the ministers wrote.

Westerwelle and Sikorski travelled to Minsk early November, where they held talks with Lukashenko and Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, as well as opposition politicians.

'This is a severe setback for the democratic ambitions of the Belarusian people,' Westerwelle and Sikorski wrote.

They said respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law were preconditions for a stronger cooperation between the EU and Belarus.

'Together with our European colleagues, we will determine the consequences of the latest developments in Minsk for our future policy towards Belarus,' the ministers concluded.


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