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EU Ministers Opt To Keep Sanctions On Belarus

Transparent enough yet? A voter is seen behind the curtain of a voting booth in Minsk during Belarusian parliamentary elections in September that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called a "missed opportunity" for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime.
European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg have resolved to keep sanctions in place against Belarus, but they are continuing to hold out the prospect of lifting sanctions if Minsk improves its human rights record.

The sanctions are part of the EU's "critical engagement" policy with the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- an attempt to pressure Minsk to implement democratic reforms.

The EU again called on the Belarusian government to "stop harassment of civil society, the political opposition and the independent media."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, speaking at a news conference in Luxembourg after the October 15 talks, singled out Belarus's widely condemned parliamentary elections on September 2 as a "missed opportunity."

"Parliamentary elections in Belarus were yet another missed opportunity to conduct elections in line with international standards, and we are very concerned about increased acts of harassment and repression of civil society and political opposition, as well as the diplomatic crisis with Sweden," Ashton said.

The EU ministers said sanctions already imposed on Belarus would not immediately be lifted for several reasons, including the continued detention of some political prisoners and the failure of the government to "rehabilitate" those political prisoners who have been released.

The EU punitive measures already imposed against 243 people and 32 entities in Belarus are to be extended at least until October 2013 under the minister's latest decision.

But ministers noted the EU policy on restrictive measures against Belarus "remains open and under constant review." Ashton said it was up to Belarus to change, otherwise "our policy remains unchanged."

"The development of our bilateral relations with Belarus remains conditional on progress on human rights, on democracy and the rule of law," Ashton said. "And until then, our policy remains unchanged, so we prolonged the restrictive measures for another year."
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