The European Union said Monday that it was likely to impose sanctions on top political leaders in Belarus, including President Alexander Lukashenko, after saying weekend presidential elections there were marred by intimidation.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU presidency, said that an EU foreign ministers' meeting agreed that the conduct of the presidential vote on Sunday was "far beyond acceptable."
"We have expressed our rejection of the way this process has been steered by the (Belarus) authorities and the way elections have been conducted and in fact the way the situation of democracy is not improving but sadly deteriorating" in Belarus, said Plassnik.
She said the EU was likely to take "restrictive measures against those who are responsible" for the way the election was handled.
The EU ministers said that in the next months they were likely to impose sanctions, notably a wider travel ban on Belarus officials. The EU's current ban covers only half a dozen or so people, but Lukashenko is not among them.
Separately, the Council of Europe the continent's premier human rights organization, based in Strasbourg, France called Lukashenko's re-election "a farce."
"The main problem with Sunday's presidential elections is not so much that the regime may have cheated in the ballot box, but that it cheated in the run up to the elections," said Terry Davis, the council's president.
"In a country in which freedom of expression and association are so thoroughly and aggressively suppressed, a vote is not an exercise in democracy, it is a farce."
The president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, urged the EU to impose sanctions. He was backed by a delegation of parliament members who monitored the election and concluded that Lukashenko should not be recognized as the legitimate leader of Belarus.
"The vote took place in an atmosphere of fear and threats," said the delegations, which included representatives of the main political factions in the EU's assembly, reports AP.
Ukraine would not have been able to carry out the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea alone