Belarus 'dictator' banned from entering EU and US

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The Independent Online

The re-elected president of Belarus, Alexander Luka-shenko, has been cast into international isolation after his security forces launched a fresh crackdown on opposition leaders.

Mr Lukashenko, who has been described as Europe's last dictator, will be banned from entering the 25 nations of the EU - including Ukraine's neighbours, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania - and from the US.

The EU had already promised to increase its sanctions against Belarus after denouncing last Sunday's elections as flawed. But EU countries were hesitating over whether to include Mr Lukashenko, giving him the same pariah status as Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe. Those doubts were swept aside after a crackdown on protesters in Minsk who were complaining about the conduct of the elections and seeking to emulate the demonstrations seen in Ukraine before the orange revolution in December 2004. The opposition said 500 people were detained.

EU heads of government promised to take "restrictive measures against those responsible for the violations of international standards, including Mr Lukashenko". Washington quickly announced that it would follow suit.

EU diplomats are drawing up a list of Belarussian officials who will be targeted by "smart sanctions" and final decisions will be taken on 10 April. Asset bans are also being considered though there is no reliable information on whether Mr Lukashenko has financial holdings in western Europe. Poland's Foreign Minister, Stefan Meller, said the list of those affected was still being drawn up and it was likely to be extensive.

Official results from Sunday's election showed that Mr Lukashenko had won a landslide victory over the opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich. But international observers said the vote was neither free nor fair with the opposition denied access to the media.

EU leaders demanded a release of all protesters. Mr Milinkevich may be invited to the next meeting of EU foreign ministers in April.

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