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13 Oct, 2008 17:35

‘Belarusian tyrant’ welcomed back to Europe

The European Union has suspended a travel ban against the Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko and another 36 of his top government officials. The ban waiver for Belarusian officials will expire in six months.

Sanctions against the Belarusian leadership were imposed in 2006 after the EU said that presidential elections in the country were undemocratic.

Ahead of last month's parliamentary election, Lukashenko promised it would be the fairest in the country's history. But although supervised by hundreds of foreign observers and monitors from the European Council, they say it fell far short of democratic standards.

Suspension of the ban is a gesture of approval of Belarus’ moves to release a number of political prisoners, said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy.

Vladimir Zharikhin from Moscow-based CIS Institute said Europe is trying to give out a signal to the Belarusian President: “Lukashenko has made some genuine concessions in terms of voting legislation, even if not a single opposition deputy made it into parliament. Europe is trying to encourage him to move further”.

The EU will continue to freeze the assets of the sanctioned Belarus officials in European banks. Meanwhile, four people suspected by the EU of being directly involved in political persecution remain on the travel ban list.

The decision to partly ease the sanctions was taken by the 27 EU foreign ministers. They've been meeting in Luxembourg to coordinate their positions ahead of the EU summit in Brussels aimed at fighting the financial crisis. The foreign ministers are set to discuss Russia's fulfilment of the EU-brokered peace plan in Georgia.

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