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Europe

EU Temporarily Lifts Travel Sanctions on Belarus

A travel ban on Belarussian government officials, including on President Alexander Lukashenko, has been lifted for six months, EU foreign ministers have said.

Russian President Alexander Lukashenko

Lukashenko can visit the EU -- at least during the next six months

“We have suspended the travel bans for six months except for those involved in the disappearance of political prisoners,” one diplomat said after the meeting on Monday, Oct. 13 in Luxembourg.

The easing of visa restrictions on Belarussian officials followed the release of the last three political prisoners by the government there, and its non-recognition of the independence of Georgia's two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which many in the West saw as an effort by Minsk to appear more open to the EU.

A block on the assets of Belarussian officials in Europe would, however, remain in place, diplomats said.

The EU also said it would lift standing sanctions, including visa bans, on central Asian state Uzbekistan after observing progress on human rights there.

Prickly relations

The European Union has had a problematic relationship with Belarus since Lukashenko won power in 1994, with the current government being described by the US in 2005 as “the last dictatorship in Europe.”

In 1997, EU foreign ministers cut all non-humanitarian and non-democracy-related aid to the ex-Soviet state, and decreed that only the EU's central organs would be authorized to meet with Belarussian ministers.

Then, following a crackdown by Lukashenko's government in 2002 on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a visa ban was imposed on eight top officials, including the president.

That ban was lifted in 2004 after Minsk allowed the opening of an OSCE office, but then reissued in April 2006 following a presidential election that was largely seen as rigged.

Minsk was also accused of covering up the disappearance of four pro-democracy figures in 1999-2000 and of attacking demonstrators in 2004 and 2006.

In May 2006, the European assets of top regime figures were frozen, and in October of that year the net was cast further to nail down the assets of still more Belarussian officials.

The current freeze list includes the education, information and justice ministers, the head of state television and radio broadcaster, and the heads of the prosecution service and security police.

The EU most recently showed dissatisfaction with elections last month won hands down by Lukashenko allies. It was believed to have been heavily manipulated.

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