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EU Leaders Slam Belarus Leader But Are Split on Sanctions

DW staff (jb)March 30, 2006

Most EU leaders agree that the Belarusian elections were a fraud but disagree on how to respond.

European leaders want to help the Belarus oppositionImage: AP

In the wake of Belarusian elections this week, European leaders are loudly condemning the Belarusian president, setting up visa bans, giving money to opposition leaders and inviting them for talks. But while some call for sanctions, others say such measures will punish the wrong people.

The EU must firmly condemn the Belarus regime for its bloody crackdown on opposition supporters after presidential polls, but should not impose sanctions that hurt the people, Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said in Riga Thursday.

"Belarus is our neighbor and what happens there touches us directly," Marcinkiewicz told reporters during a one-day visit. "But economic sanctions or a blockade should not be applied as they would put pressure on the common people, not the ruling elite."

"A massive fraud"

Weißrussland Proteste schwer bewaffnete Polizisten stehen Domonstranten gegenüber
Riot police beat protesters in the Belarusian capital Minsk on SaturdayImage: AP

EU leaders agreed at a summit last week to widen a list of senior Belarusian officials subject to a visa ban and said they were also considering financial sanctions. Poland has already imposed travel restrictions on Belarusian officials it accused of falsifying results in the former Soviet republic's presidential election on March 19 in which "Europe's last dictator" won a landslide victory in a poll judged fraudulent by the EU, the U.S. and international observers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday denounced the Belarus presidential election as marred by "massive fraud" as the lower house of parliament passed a resolution calling for the immediate release of arrested Belarusian opposition activists and sanctions against the country by the European Union.

"This election was subject to massive fraud and somebody has to say so," Merkel told the Bundestag.

More than 500 arrested

The German members of parliament are proposing to invite the main Belarusian opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, to the next meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

Der weißrussiche Oppositionsführer Alexander Milinkevich Weißrussland
Belarus' opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich says he will return to Belarus and continue to fightImage: AP

Milinkevich, who led protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, said he was going to Poland Thursday to tell the outside world what was going on in his country.

"In the Polish parliament I intend to say what is really happening in Belarus," Alexander Milinkevich told Reuters. He added that he had no plans to emigrate even though he faces jail if he returns to Belarus in connection with the protests.

So far, more than 500 people have been arrested in Belarus after a wave of opposition demonstrations resulted in a bloody crackdown by pro-Lukashenko security forces. Alexander Kozulin, another opposition figure who ran against the president and was detained after the protests, has been charged with hooliganism and faces up to six years in jail.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko postponed his inauguration Friday to April with some suggesting that the protests, which drew as many as 10,000 people, had scared him.

"Maybe the main reason is Lukashenko's psychological mood," Milinkevich told reporters. "The authorities were shocked, seeing how many people went out on the street."