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EU agrees to suspend Belarus sanctions

EU foreign ministers have agreed to suspend sanctions against Belarus following elections that witnessed President Lukashenko win a fifth term. But the OSCE said "significant problems" were observed at the polls.

Following a meeting of EU foreign ministers, French European Affairs Minister Harlem Desir said that the group agreed to suspend sanctions against Belarus.

"We have taken the decision to suspend the sanctions for the next four months but they can be re-instated immediately if that is required," Desir told reporters on Monday.

Desir said the decision was taken after Belarus' elections on Sunday took place "in the most transparent and calm way possible," referring to previous elections which were marred by violence and the

detention of opposition figures.

The suspension is expected to take effect by January.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who

won Sunday's elections by taking more than 80 percent of the vote

, had welcomed

previous reports

that they would likely take such a decision.

"They have understood that sanctions can only be harmful. They have seen that Belarus is a normal country," Lukashenko said.

Opposition leaders Mikola Statkevich (R) - released from prison in August - and Anatoly Lebedko decried the elections

Opposition leaders Mikola Statkevich (R) - released from prison in August - and Anatoly Lebedko decried the elections

Germany cautious

However, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the elections weren't perfect. "The elections naturally do not meet the international standards that we set ourselves," Steinmeier said in a statement.

The German Foreign Ministry also issued a statement on the elections following the announcement of the results, which said, "The elections are a test case for the possible development of our cooperation with Belarus."

"We expect that repressions such as those seen in 2010 will not be allowed to recur," the statement added.

'Significant problems'

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitored Sunday's elections, shared similar criticisms of Lukashenko's win at the polls.

"Some significant problems, particularly during the counting and tabulation of votes, undermined the integrity of the election," the OSCE noted in a statement. "The counting process was assessed negatively in 30 percent of stations observed, indicating significant problems."

Lukashenko, who was also targeted by the sanctions and incurred a US and EU-wide travel ban, has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994, marking more than two decades as the nation's leader.

ls/bk (AFP, AP, dpa)

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