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EU extends Belarus sanctions amid human rights concerns

The European Union has voted to extend sanctions against Belarus, citing the country's failure to improve its human rights record. Belarus condemned the action, saying it "suits neither side."

In a statement Monday, the Council of the European Union said it "remains gravely concerned about the lack of respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law," in Belarus.

"The Council again calls upon the Belarusian authorities to stop the harassment of civil society, the political opposition and the independent media," the organization added, calling for the immediate release of political prisoners.

Sanctions extended

"The Council decided to prolong the existing restrictive measures" until October 31, 2013, it said.

The Council also called the September 23 parliamentary elections, in which all 109 winning candidates came from pro-establishment parties, "another missed opportunity" for democratic progress. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said many opposition figures were blocked from participating.

The extended sanctions were first imposed on March 23. Since then, the EU has targeted individuals and companies linked to Belarus, banning visas and freezing the assets of 243 individuals and 32 companies due to their association with President Alexander Lukashenko's government.

Belarus condemns the move

Belarus condemned the EU's move on Monday, with foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh saying in a statement the decision "essentially freezes relations between Belarus and the European Union at a level that objectively suits neither side."

"The Belarusian side will not give in to pressure," he added. "We believe that such EU policies are not compatible with good-neighborly relations."

EU foreign ministers have said the sanctions come as part of a policy of "critical engagement" with Lukashenko (pictured above). The Belarusian president, who has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator," has run the country since 1994.

dr/ccp (Reuters, AFP, dpa)