EU imposes new sanctions on Belarus
(BRUSSELS) - The European Union slapped new sanctions on Belarus on Friday, piling pressure on the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko to free all political prisoners.
EU foreign ministers agreed to freeze the assets of 29 companies as well as block the accounts and ban EU travel for 12 individuals, an EU diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Diplomatic sources said the individuals would include nine police and judicial officials and three businessmen.
Some 230 other people have already been blacklisted over the continuing repression by Lukashenko's regime of civil society, the political opposition and the independent media.
"What we have seen is him going further astray from the European path in the last few weeks," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on arrival for talks with his EU counterparts in Brussels.
"This is the only regime in Europe that has political prisoners, this is the only regime in Europe that executes people. It's a horrible situation," he said.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "extremely concerned" about the fate of civil society in Belarus.
"We have been very clear with the regime in Belarus that they should release the political prisoners," she said, adding that the EU would engage with Minsk once they comply with the 27-nation bloc's demands.
The EU's Baltic members, and neighbours of Belarus, had voiced caution about the new sanctions, saying they should not hurt the country's citizens.
"We all think that sanctions against the regime are necessary but ordinary people should avoid the impact," Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said on Thursday.
An EU diplomat said another Baltic nation, Latvia, and Slovenia blocked moves to add even more Belarussian companies to the blacklist.
Like Belarus, the Baltic trio of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia won independence as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991. But the Baltic states are anchored in the West, having joined the EU and NATO in 2004.
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