BRUSSELS -- Senior European Union officials have agreed on fresh sanctions against Belarus in response to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's continuing repression of his political opponents.
The bloc's 27 foreign ministers approved the new sanctions on February 27. The sanctions are expected to be formally adopted on February 28.
The new sanctions target 21 people, including 19 judges and two police officers, who are complicit in the arrest and sentencing of political activists.
The decision -- which had to be adopted unanimously -- came after some difficult wrangling. The sanctions list originally included the name of Yury Chizh, a personal friend of Lukashenka's who controls companies in energy, construction, real estate, retail sales, pharmaceuticals, and other sectors.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec objected to Chizh's inclusion.
"I have to say that the debate was very tiring and that Slovenia couldn't agree with the fact that only one businessman was included in the list, which is Mr. Yuriy Chizh," Erjavec said.
"There are more businessmen who support the Belarusian regime, who have close relations with that regime. We've insisted that sanctions should be adopted, particularly for judges and other officials who are closely associated with the Lukashenka regime, but it's important to have the same approach for all businessmen."
Chizh's consortium reportedly has approved bids by Slovenian construction companies for projects in Belarus worth more than 100 million euros ($134 million).
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski criticized Slovenia's position on Chizh.
"This is a sad day for the European Union," Sikorski said. "It showed that the economic interests of one state turned out to be more important than the need to influence President Lukashenka's power to release political prisoners. "
EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said the discussion on extending sanctions against Belarusian businesses will continue next month.
"We decided that there was more to be done and that we wanted to have a stronger and more comprehensive approach," she said. "And, therefore, the Foreign Affairs Council in March will look at a comprehensive list of businesses and businesspeople to be added to the [sanctions] list, and that will combine with the list of those involved in the judiciary or in the police forces that has already been worked out."
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja expressed disappointment with the February 27 decision, but said talks on further sanctions are not over.
"We are disappointed and I think this disappointment was shared by almost everyone else," Tuomioja said. "But we will be imposing new sanctions on judges [on February 28] and we will return to this within a few weeks with, actually, everyone committed to adopting a more comprehensive list."
The EU has already frozen the assets and placed a visa ban on 210 individuals with ties to Lukashenka's government.
With Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels and additional reporting from Reuters and AFP