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(Updates with Merkel comment in second paragraph.)
Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel called for intensified European Union sanctions against Belarus and the release of political prisoners in the former Soviet republic after meeting with opponents of President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
“The regime’s treatment of the opposition is absolutely unacceptable,” Merkel told reporters in Warsaw today. “We’re considering how we can best support the opposition. We’re not seeing much in way of democratization at present, and what I heard yesterday didn’t make me very optimistic.”
Fresh sanctions should be targeted at Belarusian industry officials as well as justice authorities involved in the prosecution of members of the opposition, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said today in an e-mailed statement. Merkel also called for the release of presidential candidates who were imprisoned following last December’s election.
“The chancellor was startled by the depiction of the political situation in Belarus and foremost by the individual stories of political opponents living under extreme fear of prosecution since the falsified elections last December,” the statement said. Merkel met with the opposition figures at an EU conference with eastern neighbors late yesterday in Warsaw.
Belarus left the meeting, the Eastern Partnership Summit, citing decisions from the gathering touching on Belarus as “not legitimate,” the Foreign Ministry in Minsk said. Poland, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of this year, had invited Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov to take part.
Visa Ban, Funds Frozen
The EU and U.S. have expanded a visa ban to include about 200 Belarusian officials, including President Lukashenko, while stepping up sanctions to include a freeze of funds of people and companies close to the regime.
Merkel will seek to place “massive” pressure on Lukashenko’s regime to release prisoners. Dialog with the regime will only be possible when “repression in Belarus comes to an end” and free elections are held, the German statement said.
EU leaders attending the meeting issued a statement expressing “deep concern at the deteriorating human rights, democracy and rule of law situation in Belarus” and called for the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners.
Belarus has come under pressure to reform its political and economic system and release political prisoners from the International Monetary Fund. The country is struggling with a balance-of-payments crisis that forced a 36 percent devaluation of the ruble in May.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said about $9 billion in aid would be available for Belarus if it takes steps toward democracy.
Lukashenko on Sept. 14 pardoned 11 political prisoners convicted of protesting last December’s presidential elections, according to a statement published on the president’s website. The Belarusian leader previously released 13 people sentenced for organizing and participating in mass protests during the elections. Five remained in prison after the Sept. 14 announcement.
--With assistance from Aliaksandr Kudrytski in Minsk. Editors: Leon Mangasarian, Alan Crosby.
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