Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

Catherine Ashton: Lukashenka should release and rehabilitate all political prisoners

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has reiterated that Alyaksandr Lukashenka should release and rehabilitate all political prisoners, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

The Lukashenka regime and his treatment of dissidents were under discussion at a meeting of the 27 EU foreign ministers, led by Ms. Ashton, in Poland's Baltic Sea resort of Sopot on Saturday.

"In Belarus, we have of course taken notice of some of the developments and of some of the statements that have been made," said the EU’s foreign policy chief. "But I reiterate that we believe all political prisoners should be released and rehabilitated. That was our position, is our position, and the position that we continue to make very clear."

"There will be no rapprochement with the EU until he [Mr. Lukashenko] frees political prisoners," Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said on the margins of the EU foreign ministers' meeting, according to AFP. "It's a clear signal... because it's unacceptable there are political prisoners in Belarus, that they haven't been set free and that the political opposition is being prevented from organizing," he added.

Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said that there was "a consensus" on this matter in Europe.

"The liberation and rehabilitation — their participation in politics -- of all political prisoners in Belarus is a prerequisite for our resumption of dialogue with authorities in Belarus," Mr. Sikorski said in Sopot.
"Of course we will urge the Belarus authorities to go in this direction, but what is clear is that we will not engage in horse-trading for prisoners," he added.

The Bulgarian foreign ministry confirmed on Friday that Minister Nikolai Mladenov visited discreetly Minsk last week to meet with Mr. Lukashenka who pledged to release all political prisoners by October.