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Bern threatens sanctions against Belarus

A Belarussian shouting anti-Lukashenko slogans in front of riot police at the weekend Keystone

Switzerland has called for the immediate release of Belarusian protestors arrested during peaceful demonstrations after the recent presidential election.

This content was published on March 28, 2006 - 11:43

It added that if there was no improvement in the political situation in the country, it would consider imposing sanctions – following similar moves by other countries.

In a statement released on Monday, the Swiss foreign ministry said it "reiterates the regrets that it expressed after the presidential election, which did not meet recognised international standards for free and fair elections".

On Monday Belarusian courts jailed for up to 15 days more than 150 protesters detained when police broke up rallies that drew thousands to the capital, Minsk.

The election on March 19, in which officials say authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won a third term with 83 per cent of the vote, sparked days of demonstrations.

Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, who officially received 6.1 per cent of the vote, called the election a fraud and the trials a farce.

Concerned

The Swiss foreign ministry added that it was "seriously concerned about respect for human rights and the guarantee of democratic freedoms in the face of increasingly intimidatory behaviour by the Belarus authorities, which limits the free expression of civil society in an inadmissible manner".

It added: "If the political situation does not improve rapidly and durably, Switzerland will consider the possibility of targeted sanctions against Belarus. It could also impose entry bans on leading Belarus government figures."

The United States and the European Union have also said the election was undemocratic and have vowed sanctions and a possible travel ban against Lukashenko and other officials.

The Swiss foreign ministry formally called on the Belarus authorities to respect their international commitments with regard to basic liberties and human rights.

In particular it called for the release of another opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin, and requested an end to intimidatory measures and that democratic freedoms be guaranteed.

Kozulin, arrested at the weekend, could face six years in jail on hooliganism charges.

"Dictatorship"

Belarus has been described as Europe's "last Stalinist dictatorship" by the Wall Street Journal, but the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) believes it must continue its work in the country.

The agency has previously said the need to help the population, particularly in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, overrides any political considerations.

Its aid programmes aim to improve the living conditions of most socially disadvantaged and those living in the contaminated Chernobyl zone.

Despite resettlement efforts hundreds of thousand people still live on polluted territories including some 500,000 children, many of whom are sick at birth.

In addition, the SDC aims to strengthen Belarusian NGOs active in the humanitarian field and ensure their sustainability on an organisational level.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The SDC has been active in Belarus since 1993, supporting social-medical programmes of the Swiss Red Cross and Green Cross Switzerland and respective local NGOs.

A Swiss Cooperation Office was opened in Minsk in 2001 to ensure mid-term humanitarian involvement in Belarus.

The humanitarian aid programme in Belarus aims at relieving the suffering of those affected by Chernobyl, and supporting the socially deprived.

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Key facts

SDC commitment to Belarus amounted to SFr2.6 million ($2 million) in 2005.
Belarus has been independent since 1991.
Belarus has a population of 10,300,000 and a per capita GDP of $7,600 (SFr9,900).

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