EU to approve visa ban on 31 Belarus officials, including Lukashenko

European Union foreign ministers are expected next week to approve a visa ban on 31 top Belarus officials including President Alexander Lukashenko in protest at his re-election last month in a vote international observers condemned as unfair. Diplomats said Friday the ministers will following through on a decision by EU leaders two weeks ago to expand sanctions against Belarus . They did not rule out further action including an assets freeze on political leaders deemed responsible for the recent crackdown on opposition groups and protests.

The 31 people are being banned from traveling to any of the 25 EU states because they were found "responsible for the violations of international electoral standards and international human rights law, as well as for the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition," said draft conclusions expected to be adopted by EU ministers on Monday in Luxembourg. EU officials said the list could be expanded in the weeks to come. Six Belarus officials are already on an EU visa ban list.

Diplomats said the foreign ministers would not consider a demand by the European Parliament to end recognition of Lukashenko as president, nor did they foresee putting pressure on Moscow to drop backing of the Belarus leader. Lukashenko, who has been called Europe 's last dictator, won 83 percent of the vote and a third consecutive term in last month's elections, declared by the EU and the United States undemocratic and fraudulent. Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, won 6.1 percent of the vote. Milinkevich, who held talks with lawmakers at the EU assembly this week, called for hundreds of officials to be put on the visa blacklist, reports the AP.

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