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EU Vows Support for Belarus Opposition

President Alexander Lukashenko (file photo)

President Alexander Lukashenko (file photo)

The European Union has pledged to continue supporting the opposition in Belarus, in an effort to pressure authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to launch democratic reforms.

EU human rights chief Thomas Hammarberg and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski met with leaders of the Belarusian opposition Thursday on the sidelines of an EU summit that will discuss relations with six of the bloc's eastern neighbors, including Belarus. Poland currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Hammarberg vowed continued support for the opposition in Belarus, where political opponents are being imprisoned without trial and where what EU officials describe as "grave human rights abuses" occur. He noted that the situation has worsened after the Minsk government cracked down on the opposition following the disputed December 2010 re-election of President Lukashenko.

Sikorski said there will be no chance for deeper relations or more economic support as long as the people of Belarus are persecuted.

Belarus is being represented at the meeting by its ambassador to Warsaw, rather than by its foreign minister.

The European Union and the United States have imposed tough sanctions on President Lukashenko and his allies in response to their crackdown on the opposition.

President Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994. He was proclaimed the winner in the December presidential vote, which observers said failed to meet international standards.

Belarus authorities arrested hundreds of protesters, journalists and opposition leaders during the mass post-election demonstration December 19.

The EU's Eastern Partnership meeting opens Thursday in Warsaw with EU heads of state discussing relations with partner states Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.