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You're reading: 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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