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European Parliament Condemns Belarus Clampdown On Poles

STRASBOURG -- The European Parliament has condemned Belarus's clampdown on its ethnic Polish minority, in a row that has strained ties between Brussels and Minsk.

In a resolution adopted at a session in Strasbourg, MEPs expressed their "grave concern" at what they called the recent human rights violations in Belarus, and called for the return of property seized from an unofficial Polish cultural organization, the Union of Poles in Belarus.

The group's building near Minsk was seized last month and police briefly detained a number of its activists.

The EP resolution said the "discrimination" against the group was "symptomatic" of Minsk's general treatment of civil society and the democratic opposition.

It also called for the release of political activists such as Andrey Bandarenka and prisoners of conscience such as Ivan Mikhaylau and Artsyom Dubski.

The Belapan news agency later reported that Mikhaylau -- who was jailed for refusing to do military service on the grounds of religious conviction -- was released today, after a court on March 9 annulled his sentence and sent the case back to a lower court for retrial.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service says this is the 29th such resolution by the European Parliament in the past 15 years of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rule. Many of the resolutions included condemnations and demands similar to the current one.

But Minsk political scientist Yuras Chavusau said today's resolution was different in one main respect: it holds out the prospect of rewards for future improvements, including preferential access to the EU market for Belarusian goods. The resolution “mentions the possibility of obtaining loans from international financial institutions and the restoration of a Generalized System of Preferences to Belarus," Chavusau told RFE/RL.

Andrzej Poczobut, an activist with the Union of Poles in Belarus, welcomed today's move.

"Of course we are satisfied that the situation around Poles in Belarus is not just a quarrel between Belarus and Poland," he said. "In essence, the resolution has put this issue on the European agenda. We are very pleased that European diplomats will tackle the resolution of this issue. This will strengthen the position of our organization."