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    EU approves restrictions against Belarus officials - Austrian FM

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    Ursula Plassnik told a news conference that the EU Council had approved restrictive measures against Belarusian officials responsible for violations of international election standards, including President Alexander Lukashenko.

    BRUSSELS, March 24 (RIA Novosti) - The European Union has approved restrictive measures against senior Belarusian officials including the country's president, the Austrian foreign minister said Friday.

    Ursula Plassnik told a news conference that the EU Council had approved restrictive measures against Belarusian officials responsible for violations of international election standards, including President Alexander Lukashenko.

    The Council of Ministers, which includes EU members' heads of state or government and the European Commission president, condemned the Belarusian authorities for detaining peaceful protesters who exercised their right to freedom of assembly by protesting against the election, which the OSCE found fraudulent, Plassnik said, demanding an immediate release of the protesters arrested last night.

    Austria currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

    Friday morning, several busloads of protestors were taken to courts in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, as authorities followed through on a warning that all protests would be treated as acts of terrorism and punished accordingly.

    Protestors took to the streets following Sunday's presidential elections, in which Lukashenko won 83% of the vote, according to the official tally. The opposition said the elections were fraudulent and called for a re-run.

    Plassnik described Belarus as the last instance of totalitarianism in an open and democratic Europe, but praised the Belarusian opposition's brave efforts to advance democracy in the former Soviet republic. She pledged further EU support for civil society in Belarus, and promised access to independent sources of information.

    Plassnik also said the EU would coordinate the sanctions with its international partners and called on them to join Europe's initiative.

    Russia and monitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose union of former Soviet republics, said the elections were democratic and the results legitimate.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Friday accused the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the world's largest regional security organization, of inflaming tensions during the election campaign and voting in Belarus. OSCE election monitors also condemned the elections as neither free nor fair.

    "Unfortunately, we witnessed a situation in which the OSCE monitoring mission started speaking before the elections about their illegitimacy, and made rather biased comments on the voting," Lavrov said.

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