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EU Concerned About 'Deteriorating' Situation In Belarus

The head of the EU Delegation to Belarus, Ambassador Maira Mora, leaves the delegation office in central Minsk on February 29, after being asked by the government to leave the country.
BRUSSELS -- European Union officials have expressed their "serious" concern over "the further deterioration of the situation" in Belarus.

A statement adopted by the European Council on March 2 endorsed the recent extension of EU sanctions against police and judges tied to the repression of the Belarusian political opposition.

It also called for the bloc to continue work on "further measures" against the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

"The European Council expresses its serious and deepening concern over the further deterioration of the situation in Belarus, said council President Herman Van Rompuy as he presented the statement in Brussels.

"It welcomes the decision reached at the council to extend the list of those responsible for serious human rights violations, the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition or supporting or benefiting from the Lukashenka regime to be targeted by a travel ban and an asset freeze," he added.

Poland has taken the lead in prompting the bloc to pressure Lukashenka.

In Warsaw on March 2, Poland's parliament passed a resolution calling for Belarus to release all political prisoners, nominating jailed human rights activist Ales Byalyatski for the Nobel Peace Prize, and calling for EU solidarity on Belarus.

The resolution names 15 Belarusians that Warsaw considers political prisoners.

"The sociopolitical drama in Belarus, particularly the wave of repression that swept the country after the fraud-marred presidential election of December 2010 demands European solidarity," the Polish resolution says.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk delivered a similar message when he addressed journalists in Brussels.

"For us, it is important that the EU reacted in solidarity and in a coordinated way," Tusk said. "It took a bit of effort. Today I can be assured that the EU institutions will make sure that the diplomatic response to this issue will be coordinated."

And Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said that the EU would continue to respond to the needs of Belarusians despite the recalls of the bloc's ambassadors from Belarus.

"We had a discussion about Belarus and about recalling our ambassadors. The only thing some pointed out was that some sort of representation must remain because many still have their own citizens in Belarus and they need some sort of support by embassy personnel," Reinfeldt said.

"So there was a little expression of worry that we really must do this [withdrawal] in a way that doesn't put some citizens' situation in limbo."

On February 28, Minsk asked the EU ambassador and the Polish ambassador in Belarus to leave the country, prompting all 27 EU member states to recall their ambassadors.

In related news, the foreign minister of Belarus has been omitted from a list of delegates expected in Prague on March 5 for a meeting of the European Union's Eastern Partnership program.

A list published on March 2 by the Czech government includes the foreign ministers of only five of the six Eastern Partnership countries expected to meet with EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU Integration Commissioner Stefan Fuele.

They are from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Baltics and Visegrad 4 (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) ministers are also expected in Prague.

Written by Rikard Jozwiak, with AFP and AP reporting
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