EU likely to renew Belarus sanctions over civil rights concerns
BRUSSELS - The European Union is likely on Monday to renew sanctions against individuals and companies linked to the Belarus government for another year because Minsk has not improved its civil rights record, an EU official and diplomats said.
Sanctions are part of a policy the EU calls "critical engagement" with the government of President Alexander Lukashenko - an attempt to push it to implement reforms.
Parliamentary elections in September were widely criticised as being a sham and the Belarus government conducts widespread harassment of its critics, including use of prison sentences or fines for minor offences.
"The situation in Belarus has not improved," the EU official said on Friday.
After introducing its latest round of restrictive measures, decided on March 23, the European Union now has visa bans and asset freezes on 243 individuals and 32 companies due to their association with Lukashenko's government.
An embargo on arms and material that can be used for internal repression was imposed in June 2011, under sanctions that are valid until Oct. 31 of this year.
EU foreign ministers, who are scheduled to meet on Monday, are still "gravely concerned about the lack of respect for human rights, democracy and rule of law in Belarus", according to a draft of their conclusions.
"As not all political prisoners have been released and no released prisoner been rehabilitated, and against the background of the lack of improvement as regards the respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles, the Council decided to prolong the existing restrictive measures until Oct. 31 2013," the draft said.
Some names might be added to the sanctions list, the EU official said.
The bloc is not considering a wider trade embargo, however, preferring to take aim at people and businesses. "The EU will continue to target people until all the political prisoners are released," the official said.
Last month's elections produced 109 winning candidates for parliament, all from pro-establishment parties. Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said many opposition figures had been blocked from taking part.
The parliament acts as a rubber-stamp body for the authoritarian Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet state since 1994.
Relations with the West declined when he cracked down on street protests against his re-election in December 2010. Scores of his opponents were arrested and many are now lying low after periods in jail or have fled the country.
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