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EU Slaps More Sanctions On Belarus Over Crackdown

  • Rikard Jozwiak

Andrey Sannikau was jailed earlier this month for five years for organizing the protests that broke out after the disputed presidential election in December.

Andrey Sannikau was jailed earlier this month for five years for organizing the protests that broke out after the disputed presidential election in December.

BRUSSELS -- EU foreign ministers have agreed to widen sanctions against Belarus over Minsk's postelection crackdown on government opponents.

During a meeting in Brussels, ministers decided to add 13 names to a list of some 170 individuals -- including President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- who have their financial assets frozen and are barred from entering the European Union.

The new names are judges and prosecutors who have been involved in recent trials of opposition presidential candidates such as Andrey Sannikau, who was jailed earlier this month for five years for organizing the protests that broke out after Lukashenka's disputed election win last December.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that the extension of the blacklist came as a direct response to the recent trials.

"In Minsk, which is on the continent of Europe, we have ongoing political trials, ongoing political verdicts of a nature that is completely unacceptable. And that means that further measures will have to be taken," Bildt said.

"We also have an ongoing financial crisis, verging on financial collapse in Minsk. So it is a dramatic situation there as well."

No Sanctions On Firms

However, during the meeting the foreign ministers failed to agree on economic sanctions on companies that are close to Lukashenka's regime.

Some member states, including Latvia and Italy, believe that such measures would hurt the population rather than the ruling elite.

Initial talks about these types of measures have been going on for some time but diplomats have told RFE/RL it could be "several weeks, if not months" until some sort of agreement is reached.

It is believed that several Belarusian weapons firms, which have produced riot equipment used against the protesters in December, are potential targets. Oil companies that are closely linked to the state are also being considered.

The Latvian foreign minister, Girts Valdis Kristovskis, told RFE/RL that economic sanctions do not always achieve the stated goals.

“Such economic sanctions can work negatively on civil society because [it cause] unemployment and directly and indirectly also influences some other neighboring states -- especially Latvia is one of the neighboring states," Kristovskis said. "We expect that we shouldn't be punished in this situation."

Kristovskis pointed out that close to 3 percent of Latvia’s GDP is connected to trade with Belarus and that economic measures in Minsk would hurt Riga.

“If such sanctions will be introduced, of course some of our companies, our transit or port capacities will be decreased," he said. "And that's why this directly also will impact our economy.”

One of the other measures that has been discussed is a boycott of the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championships, which Belarus is hosting. Several members of the European Parliament have called for the event to be canceled to hand a symbolic blow to the hockey-mad Lukashenka.

But Bildt told RFE/RL that such a move is not on the table at the moment.

“We have not discussed it," he said. "It is something that we have to discuss in the future.”

More Opposition Verdicts

In the most recent verdicts to be handed down over the December protests in Minsk, two former opposition presidential candidates were given two-year suspended sentences on May 20.

Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu and Vital Rymasheuski were convicted of violating public order.

Two other former presidential candidates on trial at a different Minsk court -- Mikalay Statkevich and Dzmitry Vus -- were also due to hear their verdicts on May 20.

But the court postponed them, saying the judge in the case was ill. No new date was given.

Prosecutors have asked for an eight-year prison sentence for Statkevich and seven years for Vus on the more serious charge of organizing mass disturbances.

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