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EU Ministers Impose New Sanctions On Belarus, Iran, Syria


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma
BRUSSELS -- European Union foreign ministers have imposed new sanctions targeting the Iranian, Belarusian, and Syrian regimes.

Diplomats say the measures include an EU travel ban and asset freeze on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's wife, Asma, and around 10 other Syrians.

The EU has already imposed sanctions on around 150 Syrian companies and people following the violent crackdown on antiregime opponents.

On Belarus, the EU ministers added 29 firms and 12 people to some 230 Belarusians already blacklisted in response to repression of the political opposition by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
The ministers added 17 Iranians responsible for alleged abuses to a blacklist of 61 people already facing an EU travel ban and assets freeze. The ministers also extended the sanctions on all for another year.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, speaking ahead of the meeting, said the Syria sanctions were aimed at increasing the pressure on Assad's regime to end the violence, which the United Nations says has killed more than 8,000 people in the past year.

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"I am really worried about the escalating spiral of violence in Syria," she said, "and what we need to have is a method by which, first of all, the violence can stop."

Expulsions Ordered

British-born Asma al-Assad became the focus of sharp criticism recently after Syrian activists released what they said were messages from her and her husband's personal e-mail accounts. The messages -- which have not been independently verified -- suggest Asma continued shopping online for luxury goods as the violence in Syria was escalating.

The latest EU action marked the second round of sanctions targeting Belarusian individuals linked to the regime within the past month. The Belarusian government reacted to the earlier round of sanctions by asking the Polish ambassador and the EU's envoy to Belarus to leave the country.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Brussels on March 23
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Brussels on March 23
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the EU had to continue its policy of sanctions against the regime of President Lukashenka, whom he described as "the last dictator in Europe."

"[Belarus President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka is the last dictator in Europe. We cannot just simply watch when people in Europe are suppressed, locked up, and whole families are suffering," Westerwelle said. " It is therefore necessary that we continue our policy of sanctions."

On Iran, the ministers also imposed a ban on exports to Iran of equipment that could be used for electronic surveillance.

The EU ministers also approved regulations on implementing a ban on oil imports from Iran starting July 1.

The EU agreed the oil ban in January as part of efforts to pressure Iran to curb nuclear work, which Western nations fear is aimed at making atomic weapons -- a charge denied by the Islamic republic.

With Reuters and dpa reporting
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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