EU slams Belarus, Ukraine over human rights abuses


The European Union has called on Ukraine and Belarus to improve their human rights records during an EU partnership summit. But the criticism fell on deaf ears, with Belarus responding by boycotting the talks.

A key European Union summit with six ex-Soviet states was marred by a diplomatic showdown Friday after EU leaders called on Ukraine and Belarus to improve their human rights record.

Designed to strengthen ties with the bloc’s eastern neighbors, the summit’s focus turned instead to the plight of political opponents in the former Soviet states, prompting the Belarus delegation to walk out of talks.

The 27-nation bloc had issued a declaration expressing "deep concern" over the Belarusian handling of hundreds of imprisoned dissidents. The statement demanded that authoritarian Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko immediately free and rehabilitate all political opponents.

"The behavior of the regime toward the opposition is completely unacceptable, " said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of several European leaders to meet with Belarusian dissidents in Warsaw ahead of the summit.

Hosting the event, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk warned that the EU family would not be open to the Belarusian regime without the release of all political prisoners.

"There will be no concessions, " he said.

Fiery exchange

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry in turn accused the EU of "discrimination." In a statement, the ministry said summit organizers had prevented senior members of their delegation from attending the talks.

Police have cracked down heavily on protests in Belarus"The Belarusian side was interested in participating in the summit. But under present conditions it is impossible: Partnership may not be based on discrimination, " the statement read.

Lukashenko himself was unable to attend the event as he and several other senior regime members are subject to an EU travel ban over concerns about human rights violations in Belarus.

Poland had instead invited Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov to attend the Warsaw gathering. He is the highest official in Belarus not to be restricted by the ban.

Ukraine rebuked

Ukraine was next in line for a dressing down from the EU, over the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. As the two-day summit concluded, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said he considered the case against the ex-Orange Revolution leader "a serious matter."

"We expressed our concerns about the fate of the former prime minister and we expressed our rejection of the possible selective use of judicial measures against members of the former administration, " said Van Rompuy.

 Tymoshenko is facing a possible seven-year jail sentence on charges of abuse of office. The 50-year-old former leader publically denounced her trial on Thursday as "political lynching, " saying it was contrived by her political rival and current president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraine is currently engaged in talks with the EU on an association agreement that includes a free trade deal, which comes ahead of an EU-Ukraine summit in December.

Van Rompuy warned, however, that the trial could potentially "hinder ... the finale" of Ukraine’s negotiations.

Chancellor Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso were among around 30 leaders attending the talks. The so-called Eastern Partnership initiative was launched in 2009 to deepen the EU’s ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, Joanna Impey (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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