Britain pushes Belarus on prisoners

Feb. 29, 2012 at 12:52 PM

LONDON, Feb. 29 (UPI) -- British officials said they summoned the Belarusian envoy in response to a decision from Minsk to recall ambassadors to Poland and the European Union.

Minsk asked the ambassadors of the EU and Poland to leave the country and recalled their envoys for consultations after the EU opted to extend sanctions on the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarusia's Foreign Ministry, in a statement published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said the sanctions showed "the European Union continues to pursue a policy of open pressure."

The sanctions target 21 people involved in the sentencing of activists opposing Lukashenko.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed disappointment in Minsk's decision.

"The U.K., together with its EU partners, has consistently made clear to Belarus that the EU would continue to impose further sanctions as long as political prisoners remained in place and the repression of civil society continued," he said in a statement.

Washington expressed similar regret, saying Minsk's policies only serve to deepen the country's "self-isolation."

A court in Belarus sentenced human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski to 4 1/2 years in prison on tax evasion charges in December.

Hundreds of challengers to Lukashenko were rounded up following elections in 2010.

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