- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

LUXEMBOURG — The European Union yesterday barred Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and dozens of his senior officials from entering any bloc countries after his re-election last month in a vote that international observers said was rigged.

The visa ban for the 31 officials marked the first time the European Union has prohibited the head of state of a neighboring nation from visiting the 25 members of the bloc. It has taken the same steps against the leaders of Zimbabwe and Burma.

The measure, approved at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, also was meant to punish the country’s leadership for cracking down on the opposition and its supporters. They said further steps — such as freezing the assets of the Belarusian leadership — remain possible.

Mr. Lukashenko and the 30 other officials are banned from traveling to EU nations on the grounds that they were “responsible for the violations of international electoral standards and international human rights law, as well as for the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition,” the foreign ministers said.

They urged Mr. Lukashenko “not to penalize or discriminate against those exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, including the leaders of the opposition parties.”

Mr. Lukashenko, who has been called Europe’s last dictator, won 83 percent of the vote and a third consecutive term, according to the official results of last month’s elections, declared by the European Union and the United States to be undemocratic and fraudulent. Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich won 6.1 percent of the vote.

Mr. Milinkevich, who held talks with lawmakers at the EU assembly last week, had called for hundreds of officials to be put on the visa blacklist.

The European Union already has banned six other Belarusian officials.

Besides Mr. Lukashenko, the list included his ministers of justice, information and education; the chairman of the Belarusian lower house of parliament; the chairman of the Belarus KGB state security service and his deputy; eight election commission officials; the head of the state broadcaster; and three judges.

EU officials said the list would be kept under review and could be expanded.

The foreign ministers did not act on a demand by the European Parliament to stop recognizing Mr. Lukashenko as president.

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