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Europe

Germany Pledges Support for Belarusian Opposition

The German government on Monday pledged its support to the political opposition in Belarus as the EU mulled sanctions after President Lukashenko claimed a third term after Sunday's questionable election.

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Merkel and Milinkevich met in Berlin in February

"We will give further support to the democratic powers in the opposition," government spokesman Thomas Steg told a press briefing.

He cited Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent meetings with opposition figures as proof of this commitment.

Steg said the vote took place "in an atmosphere of reprisals and intimidation", which meant that it "cannot be considered free and fair."

He added that the "opposition candidates deserve respect and admiration for participating" in the election to prove that there were many people in Belarus who want democracy and human rights.

The Berlarussian opposition has called for the poll which returned Lukashenko to power with a resounding 82.6 percent of the vote to be declared invalid because of alleged fraud.

Lukashenko on Monday rejected the call as "absurd."

EU mulls sa n ctio n s

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner meanwhile said the bloc would "very likely" bolster sanctions on Belarus. The EU's Austrian presidency had earlier lamented a climate of intimidation clouding the elections in the former Soviet republic.

"From what we have seen so far my view is some action is now very likely indeed," said Ferrero-Waldner, who has warned repeatedly in recent weeks that the EU could strengthen sanctions if it was not happy about the Belarusian presidential election.

Speaking to reporters as EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus at scheduled talks in Brussels, she said there was unlikely to be any immediate decision, adding that the EU was waiting for a report by election monitors due later in the day.

European Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen said that no one would believe the election which swept Lukashenko to a third term in office was free and fair.

Verheuge n says n o place i n EU for a dictatorship

Günter Verheugen

Verheugen said no one would believe the elections were fair

"No one will be fooled by this election result or indeed by the whole election," Verheugen told Deutschlandradio Kultur after it was announced that Lukashenko had won Sunday's election with 82.6 percent of the vote.

Verheugen, a German, dismissed claims that Belarus could aspire to membership of the European Union.

"This country is the last real dictatorship in Europe and as long as it remains so it cannot be a partner for the European Union," he said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who chaired the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, told reporters: "The climate of intimidation and hindering of the opposition to do their work was upsetting."

Pola n d proposes visa ba n s a n d freezi n g of fi n a n ces

Wenn das so einfach wäre

Poland feels its neighbor has asserted strength to get the result it wanted

Poland's deputy foreign minister, Stanislaw Komorowski was another of the foreign ministers in favor of sanctions.

"We will propose the strengthening of sanctions," he said. "It is evident that Belarus elections were not free and democratic. The EU must act."

Komorowski said he would propose a visa ban on Belarus officials deemed responsible for election rigging if the offence could be proved. He also said that a possible freeze on financial assets abroad and possibly wider targeted economic sanctions would also be put forward. Sanctions "must be constructed in such a way that they do not harm average people," Komorowski added.

Oppo n e n ts of sa n ctio n s fewer i n n umber

However, not all the EU ministers were in favor of action against Belarus. "There is no good reason to impose economic sanctions," said Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda. "We need to have permanent dialogue. I do prefer just to promote dialogue and to support universities, NGOs, opposition, all democratic forces."

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