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Europe

EU Follows US Lead and Cracks Down on Lukashenko

The European Union Thursday froze the assets of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and 35 other officials over a crackdown on opponents and irregularities during his re-election in March.

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Frozen out: Lukashenko gets a financial cold shoulder from the EU

The targets of the restrictive measures also included the justice, information and education ministers, as well as the chief prosecutor and heads of electoral commissions in a number of districts, the EU said in a statement.

The freeze adds to a travel ban agreed by the Union in April.

Lukashenko, dubbed Europe's last dictator by Washington, was re-elected with 83 percent of votes in March 19 polls, sparking protests but not on the scale of those which toppled governments in Georgia and Ukraine. Lukashenko, 51, has been in power in the former Soviet republic since 1994.

The polls were condemned as fraudulent by election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and relations with the EU have since plunged to an all-time low.

In April, the 25-nation European bloc extended a travel ban to cover the same officials and has threatened for some time to hit them financially.

Alexander Lukaschenko, Präsident Weißrusslands

The EU claims Lukashenko violated electoral standards

The EU said it would act "by freezing all funds and economic resources of persons who are responsible for the violations of international electoral standards and the crackdown on civil society and the democratic opposition."

"The common position also specifies that no funds or economic resources shall be made available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of the persons concerned," it statement said.

President Bush bans Belarusian officials from the US

The EU announcement follows a similar one from the United Sates on Tuesday in which Washington barred President Lukashenko and other members of the Belarusian government from entering the United States, because of alleged human rights and election fraud violations during the presidential poll.

Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Popov condemned the US move, calling it "shortsighted and without perspective."

"We think that this will not allow establishing normal relations between our two countries. There is no reason to respond with certain limitations to a people's choice. This election has taken place and no one has the right to annul it," Popov said.

Relations between the European Union and Belarus took a massive nosedive in the wake of Lukashenko's gaining of a third term in office in the March 19 election that Western observers said was neither free nor fair.

EU-Russia tensions set to increase

This latest move by the EU is unlikely to help the atmosphere before an EU-Russia summit next Thursday.

Der Abstand wächst

Putin and the Belarusian president are comrades of convenience

Belarus is a close ally of Russia and the new sanctions against Lukashenko and the other Belarusian officials are likely to cause conflict at the meeting where tensions are already expected over delicate issues such as Russian energy policy and the EU's efforts to deepen ties with former Soviet satellite countries.

EU states have vowed to help Belarusian civil society, including enabling students to come and study in the EU and by enhancing access to independent media. European Union members have also publicly offered support to the Belarusian opposition which has been suppressed by Lukashenko.

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