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US tightens sanctions on Belarus

22 december 2011, 11:11
The US Capitol. ©AFP
The US Capitol. ©AFP
The US Congress on Tuesday tightened sanctions on Belarus a year after its sweeping crackdown on dissent, and voiced opposition to plans to hold world ice hockey championships in Minsk, AFP reports.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives voted for legislation that broadens an existing visa blacklist and financial sanctions to cover not only the country's leaders but also security officials involved in last year's clampdown.

The measure urges the International Ice Hockey Federation to suspend plans to hold 2014 world championships in Minsk, calling the games a way for strongman Alexander Lukashenko to gain legitimacy.

The bill, which was already approved by the US Senate, also states explicitly that the United States will not lift its sanctions on Belarus until it frees everyone jailed in last year's crackdown.

"The sanctions outlined in the bill are aimed at the senior leadership of the dictatorship that displays utter contempt for the dignity and the rights of the Belarusan people," Representative Chris Smith, who sponsored the bill, said on the House floor.

"With these sanctions we stand with the Belarusan people and against their oppressors," said Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who has long been active on human rights issues.

On December 19 last year, some 50,000 people demonstrated in the bitter cold after Lukashenko -- often called Europe's last authoritarian ruler -- was declared the winner for the fourth time despite allegations of fraud.

Security forces arrested more than 700 people and imprisoned six candidates, abruptly ending Western efforts to repair relations with the former Soviet state.

Irina Krasovskaya, the wife of Lukashenko opponent Anatoly Krasovsky who vanished without trace in 1999, urged new pressure as she met with lawmakers in Washington on Monday.

"The situation today is even worse than it is described in the press. The physical pressure on political prisoners is dramatically increasing, and I believe that now there is a real threat to the lives of political prisoners," she said.

"Please do not allow Lukashenko to kill again."

The European Union has also tightened sanctions, announcing last week that it is freezing the assets and banning travel by two people involved in the controversial trial of a human rights campaigner.

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