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EU readies new sanctions against Belarus

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU is readying fresh sanctions against 16 people allegedly involved in rights violations in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has thrown hundreds of opponents behind bars, diplomatic sources said Thursday.

Among them are four Belarussians believed to be involved in a court case against the head of a top human rights group, Ales Beliatsky, that has sparked global outrage and calls for his release.

The Vyasna (Spring) leader faces up to seven years if convicted in a case for large-scale tax evasion.

Beliatsky was detained on August 4 after Belarus authorities received information from countries such as Lithuania and Poland about bank accounts held by the rights leader abroad.

The latest EU sanctions were in June when foreign ministers blacklisted three companies and four people close to Lukashenko, bringing the number of those targeted by an assets freeze and travel ban to almost 200.

As concern mounts over rights violation and the rule of law in Belarus, European Union leaders met with members of the opposition on the sidelines of a summit between the EU-27 and six former Soviet states in Warsaw last week.

Lukashenko jailed hundreds of opponents after a December presidential election which saw him garnering more than 80 percent of the ballot.

Ties between Belarus and the EU then slumped to a new low, with Minsk first represented at the two-day summit by its ambassador to Warsaw but then boycotting the talks.

At the summit, the EU leaders demanded Lukashenko immediately free and rehabilitate political opponents in detention.

In comments published by the official Belta news agency later, the Belarussian leader said: "We give too much attention to these European meetings."

"Let them blather. We don't need to take any notice of them or react."


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