Belarus Unmoved Despite Criticism
Published: March 21, 2012 (Issue # 1700)
MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Monday hosted controversial Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko for talks about deeper economic integration amid growing calls for tougher sanctions against Belarus for the execution of two convicted bombers.
Lukashenko took part in a summit of the Eurasian Economic Community, which Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin wants to develop into a union of former Soviet states that would rival the European Union.
Belarussian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Rumas said after the talks that participants had agreed on working out concrete steps to counter any sanctions. “All sides agree that no group of states should put pressure on any member state,” Rumas was quoted as saying by Interfax.
EU officials talked of introducing broader economic sanctions against Minsk because of the executions of Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, who were convicted of carrying out a bomb attack in the Minsk metro that killed 15 people and wounded more than 300 in April 2010.
Belarussian state television said over the weekend that the two had been executed, prompting horror and outrage in the West.
Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper called Lukashenko a “merciless barbarian” in an editorial published Monday.
Human rights activists say that the trial against the two had raised suspicion about their guilt. The doubts were fueled by a Belarussian High Court decision in January ordering the destruction of all material evidence against them.
Critics also said the seemingly hurried execution could be part of an official cover-up.
“An opinion has also been expressed that the death sentence was executed so fast because the two men knew something about the real organizers of the terrorist attack,” Estonian lawmaker Andres Herkel said on his website.
Jacek Protasiewicz, a Polish member of the European Parliament, said the 27-country union would probably slap new sanctions against Minsk and withdraw its ambassadors permanently from Belarus, leaving its diplomatic relations at consular level.
“Lukashenko’s tragic, shocking and incomprehensible decision showed that he is not interested in cooperation with the West,” Protasiewicz told Polish radio station RMF FM, the Naviny.by website reported.
Last month, the EU recalled its ambassadors from Belarus after Minsk kicked out the Polish and EU envoys in retaliation for Brussels’ decision to ostracize more Belarussian officials.
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