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EU plans action against those behind Belarus vote

By Staff
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BRUSSELS, Mar 24 (Reuters) The European Union was set to vow ''restrictive measures'' against those deemed politically responsible for the alleged rigging of Belarus's presidential election, a draft summit statement said today.

The document was drawn up before Belarussian police broke up opposition protests today against President Alexander Lukashenko's contested re-election, detaining about 200 demonstrators.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on the second of a two-day summit said they would discuss the situation further.

''Events during the night have confirmed (our) negative assessment and we urge the Belarus authorities to respect the freedom of assembly and to release the prisoners,'' said Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.

''We will consider the question this morning,'' she added, arriving at the summit.

In the draft statement, the EU said Belarus was ''a sad exception'' to Europe's tradition of democracy.

''The European Council is therefore determined to take restrictive measures against those politically and administratively responsible for the violations of international electoral standards,'' it added, without giving details.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson called Belarus ''the last dictatorship in Europe'' but said he was not sure if this was the right time for sanctions.

The EU's Austrian Presidency said yesterday the bloc may put visa bans on those behind the alleged election rigging.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the EU needed to talk to Russia, Belarus's closest ally, before deciding on sanctions. Any action would target the leadership and not the people of Belarus, he said.

Belarussian police detained about 200 demonstrators in an early hour swoop on the protesters in central Minsk.

The protests, unprecedented in the tightly controlled former Soviet state began last Sunday to press charges by opposition leaders that last weekend's elections were fradulent.

Eight EU countries -- Poland, Slovkia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Denmark -- launched a joint initiative to have the summit take action on Belarus, Polish Foreign Minister Stefen Meller said.

REUTERS AD BS1520

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