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EU Considers Belarus Sanctions After Vote Crackdown

The European Union is considering imposing sanctions on Belarus after the government in Minsk cracked down on opposition following last month’s presidential election.

“The EU considers what happened in Belarus as a very serious breach of some principles that are very important for us,” Fernando Valenzuela, the head of the EU’s delegation to Russia, told reporters in Moscow today.

The 27-member bloc may reach a decision on whether to impose punitive measures on Belarus by the end of January, the envoy said.

More than 700 people, including seven of nine opposition presidential candidates, were arrested after a rally in the Minsk following the Dec. 19 ballot, opposition leaders told reporters in Berlin last week. The protests took place after President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner with 79.7 percent of the vote.

Lukashenko, 56, has ruled the country of 10 million that lies wedged between EU member Poland and Russia, since 1994. Belarus was described by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006 as “Europe’s last dictatorship.”

The EU imposed a visa ban on six Belarusian officials in 2004 and widened it two years later to include Lukashenko and 30 other officials to protest his 2006 re-election. The bloc agreed to suspend the travel ban on the president in October 2008 as part of a bid to promote democracy and human rights in the former Soviet Union.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the latest presidential election wasn’t free, fair or transparent and that the process was “marred” by the arrests. The U.S. condemned the crackdown and said it “cannot accept as legitimate” the official election results.

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