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Belarus Officials Dismiss EU Sanctions


The Belarussian government has dismissed as "useless" the visa ban imposed by the European Union against top officials of the government, including long-time President Alexander Lukashenko. The EU action was in response to last month's presidential election, which most of the world says was not free and fair.

The Belarussian Foreign Ministry calls the new sanctions "deliberate, unsubstantiated and useless."

Spokesman Andrei Popov adds the 25-nation European Union should "give up steps that hinder normal development in relations" with Belarus.

He was responding to the resolution passed earlier in the day by the EU Council of foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

It prohibits Mr. Lukashenko and 30 other top officials from entering EU member territory. Six senior government members have already been subject to a ban, including top police and security officers.

The council is also considering possible seizure of economic assets held abroad by the Belarussian government.

Officials in Brussels had earlier announced that action would be taken against Mr. Lukashenko, often called "Europe's last dictator", in the wake of the controversial election on March 19.

By official count the president won an unprecedented third term in office with 83 percent of the vote, which European observers say was not free and fair.

On Saturday, Mr. Lukashenko was sworn in during a ceremony that included a Soviet-style military parade.

In a speech, he blasted the West as having failed to "mount a colored revolution" in Belarus, a reference to street protests in ex-Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine that swept unpopular leaders from power.

The ban marks the first time the European Union has prohibited a head of state from a neighboring nation from traveling to the union, although it issued bans against the leaders of Zimbabwe and Myanmar.

The resolution says the Belarussian officials have violated international electoral standards, and have also carried out a crackdown on civil society and the democratic opposition.

The council says it may expand the list, which main opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich has urged them to do.

Milinkevich came in a distant second in the election by official count, and he recently completed a trip to various West European countries seeking support.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel pointed out that the move targets only the leadership and not the people of Belarus, with whom he says the European Union wants to maintain good relations.

After the election the United States also said it will impose sanctions on the Belorussian government.

Political leaders in neighboring Russia support Mr. Lukashenko, and have criticized Western nations for the sanctions.

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