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EU May Punish Minsk for Lukashenko Referendum

BRUSSELS -- The European Union may take action against Belarus, including a visa ban and asset freezes, if the ex-Soviet state holds a referendum to extend the term of President Alexander Lukashenko, an EU official said Friday.

Lukashenko, already isolated by the West after criticism of his record on human rights and media freedom, said Tuesday he would hold a referendum in October to extend his rule.

EU foreign ministers will discuss possible action against Minsk when they meet in Brussels on Monday, an EU official said.

"We have warned [Lukashenko] on a number of occasions that there could be negative consequences if such a referendum were held. There could be some EU reaction in response," the official said.

The official said EU measures in such cases typically included a visa ban on key officials and a freeze on assets. But no concrete plans have yet been drawn up and ministers are not expected to announce specific measures Monday.

The bloc will stress that Belarus has the right to hold such a referendum, but that it would have to meet international standards for free and fair elections, "and we will express our doubt that this will be the case," the official added.

Belarus is on the ministers' agenda at the request of Latvia, one of 10 mostly ex-communist Central and Eastern European states that joined the bloc on May 1.

The United States on Thursday urged the Belarussian government to ensure a fair vote.

(The Moscow Times 13.ix.04)

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