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Europe

Russia slams Belarus sanctions as 'counterproductive'

The Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned as 'counterproductive' sanctions imposed on Belarus by the European Union and the United States in response to Minsk's post-election opposition crackdown.

Riot police in December 2010 in Minsk

Riot police blocked opposition rallies in Minsk in December

The Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned as "counterproductive" sanctions imposed on Belarus by the European Union and the United States in response to Minsk's post-election opposition crackdown.

"Russia's consistent position states that there is a need for the broadest possible involvement of Belarus, as a sovereign European state, in the international cooperation process," the ministry said in a statement.

"In this strategic context, the application against Belarus of unilateral sanctions for political reasons, that rely on undermining the social-economic stability of the country, will be counterproductive," the statement went on.

Western powers reacted with outrage to the crackdown that saw hundreds of opposition supporters arrested in protests following President Alexander Lukashenko's contested election victory on December 19 last year.

Alexander Lukashenko

Lukashenko won nearly 80 percent of the vote in the disputed election

Russia, meanwhile, has been far more circumspect, describing the election as an internal affair of Belarus and congratulating Lukashenko on his victory.

Symbolic sanctions

The EU restrictions reinstated a travel ban against Lukashenko that had been suspended two years earlier but stopped short of imposing wider economic sanctions for fear that these would hurt people and not the state.

Washington for its part said it planned to "significantly expand the number of Belarusian officials banned from traveling to the United States."

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry issued a statement Monday vowing to take "proportional measures" against Brussels. A similar message from Minsk called Washington's sanctions "an unjustified and wrongful step".

"These methods of pressure and coercion stand absolutely no chance of success," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We retain the right to take proportionate reciprocal steps."

Lukashenko was awarded nearly 80 percent of the vote in a ballot that saw his nearest rivals all officially receive less than three percent of the vote.

Snub to European watchdog

Meanwhile Europe's main security and human rights organization voiced growing frustration with Belarus on Tuesday, saying Minsk had refused to allow its media representative to visit the country, and continued to harass reporters.

OSCE in Minsk

Belarus has refused to extend the mandate of the OSCE

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized Belarus for not cooperating.

"Scores of reporters have been detained, questioned or searched in the past six weeks," it said in a statement.

Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE media freedom chief, said she had written twice to the Belarusian foreign minister to request a visit by end-January to discuss the treatment of journalists.

"It is unfortunate that this was not made possible despite the Belarusian authorities' earlier assurances that they are committed to continue working with OSCE institutions," she said.

Belarus is forcing the OSCE to leave the country after criticizing the conduct of the election.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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