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EU Diplomats Say Slovenia Blocking Belarus Sanctions

The European Union has criticized the crackdown that followed a flawed December 2010 election, which has included the rounding up of opposition activists.
European Union diplomats have accused Slovenia of blocking further EU sanctions on Belarus because Ljubljana opposes the blacklisting of a prominent Belarusian businessman.

The Slovenian position has stunned fellow EU member states and threatens to kill plans for new sanctions against Minsk when the bloc's foreign ministers meet on February 27.

The ministers were expected to impose asset freezes and travel bans on 20-30 individuals during their Brussels meeting, broadening one of the measures the EU has used to punish Belarus over its rights record and the crackdown after a flawed presidential election in December 2010.

But Slovenia announced on February 23 that it would veto the decision because it was uncomfortable with the list.

Slovenian diplomats contacted for this article declined to discuss the details of Ljubljana's opposition.

But EU diplomats say the sticking point was the list's inclusion of Yury Chizh, a Belarusian businessman who owns the Triple group of companies and is chairman of the Dinamo Minsk soccer club.

In January, Brussels widened the scope of its Belarus sanctions to include individuals and entities believed to prop up President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime economically.

There are already more than 200 people subject to the EU restrictions, but most of them were linked to the crackdown on the opposition that ensued after the disputed election.

EU ambassadors had for the last couple of weeks drawn up a fresh list of individuals, which included judges who recently had handed out prison sentences to opposition figures and members of civil society.

The EU member states were also keen to add Chizh and one or several of his financial entities over his close links to the Belarusian government -- a decision that Ljubljana disapproved of in the final stages of the decision process, diplomats say.

The same sources say the newly elected government in Slovenia has indicated that it wants stronger sanctions against Minsk but that Chizh must be removed from the list before it can approve the new measures.

Many EU countries have insisted that Brussels must toughen up to Minsk by including businessmen on the blacklist, since the sanctions so far have failed to bring about sufficient change in Minsk's policies.

EU ambassadors will hold a final round of discussions on the topic early on February 27 before the matter is left to the foreign ministers to decide.
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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.