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EU ready to lift sanctions on Belarus, sources say

Officials have said the European Union plans to suspend sanctions on Belarus following the country's upcoming elections. The move comes amid signs the country is opening up to the West.

Diplomatic sources told reporters on Friday the EU would suspend the sanctions against Belarus next week, assuming all goes smoothly during the presidential elections on Sunday. The decision reflects growing optimism in Brussels about the direction taken by the country's president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has made moves suggesting he wants to improve relations with the West.

"Depending on Lukashenko's conduct at the presidential election, the decision to lift sanctions for four months will be formally adopted on Monday," one senior EU official told the Associated Press.

The sanctions, which include travel bans and asset freezes against the president and 150 other people, will be suspended for four months. The action is largely a response to Lukashenko's

decision

to release six opposition leaders from prison in late August, which was lauded by European politicians at the time.

Watch video 02:40

Belarus expected to re-elect Lukashenko

Possible strains between Minsk and Moscow also became apparent earlier this month, when Lukashenko insisted he didn't know about the Kremlin's plans to build a military base on Belarusian soil.

"I hear shrieks from the opposition about the deployment of a Russian airbase. I don't known anything about it," he told state news agency Belta. "I feel surprised and, to some extent, angry and annoyed by that."

Belarus, which has been referred to as "Europe's last dictatorship," has received stern condemnation from the West over the years for its poor human rights record. The EU and US sanctions were implemented after Lukashenko, who has been president since 1994, cracked down on dissidents during the 2010 presidential election.

blc/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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