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EU Likely to Bolster Sanctions Against Belarus
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The European Union (EU) is "very likely" to impose stiffer sanctions on the Belarusian authority amid suspicions over foul play in the country's presidential election, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on Monday.

"From what we have seen so far, my view is some action is now very likely indeed," said Ferrero-Waldner, who has warned repeatedly in recent weeks that the EU could strengthen sanctions if it was not happy about the Belarusian election.

However, she noted that there was unlikely to be any immediate decision because the EU was awaiting a report by election observers due later in the day.

Ferrero-Waldner's spokesperson said on Monday that if the EU decided to take any action, it would only target those responsible for the wrong-doings, not the whole population.

"There is no intention ... to undertake any formal restrictive measures that could hurt the population as a whole," said Emma Udwin.

"It is clear that many aspects of the campaign, particularly arrests of members of the opposition, have no place in a free and fair election," she claimed.

According to the final results released by the Central Election Commission in Minsk, incumbent Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka garnered 82.6 percent of the vote in the Sunday election.

His main opponent, Alexander Milinkevich, gained some 6 percent of the vote. The opposition claimed that the result was rigged and called for the election to be annulled.

EU sanctions already in place include a visa ban on six key Belarus leaders.

The Belarusian election drew different reactions around the world.

Russia said on Monday the presidential re-election in Belarus had been fair and was legitimate.

"The election has highlighted high civic activity among the population, the Belarusian people's interest in stability and continuation of the socially-oriented policy," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"There is every reason to believe that the election has been held in conformity with universally-recognized standards, and its legitimacy is beyond any doubt," said the statement.

The Bush administration called for new elections after independent observers said the election did not meet standards for a free and fair vote.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the election was flawed by a "climate of fear," and hinted that penalties such as travel restrictions "are things we will look at."

"We support the call for a new election," McClellan said. "The United States will continue to stand with the people of Belarus."

(Xinhua News Agency, Chinadaily.com via agencies March 21, 2006)

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