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Official: EU envoys to skip Belarus inauguration

Ambassadors from European Union nations in Belarus will skip the inauguration of President Alexander Lukashenko after his re-election in December that was widely seen as fraudulent, an official said Wednesday.

EU ambassadors have agreed not to legitimize the outcome of the Dec. 19 vote with their presence at Friday's ceremony, said the official, who works at the embassy of an EU nation in Belarus. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give details on the subject.

The website of a university in neighboring Lithuania says the envoys were expected to visit Friday and meet with Belarusian students who were expelled from the authoritarian country.

The West is considering sanctions against Belarus over the flawed vote, at which election officials said Lukashenko garnered nearly 80 percent. A police crackdown followed protests in central Minsk, where around 700 people — including seven of Lukashenko's nine opposing candidates — were arrested.

Most were held for 10 to 15 days and released. But more than 30 people remain in jail. In the weeks since the protests, KGB officers have searched the homes and offices of journalists and rights activists across the country, seizing computers and files. A popular radio station that had given airtime to the candidate said to have finished a distant second to Lukashenko, Andrei Sannikov, was closed down.

Even ordinary people have been ordered to show up for questioning after mobile telephone providers gave police the records of all calls made in the vicinity of the election-night protests, according to some of those called in for questioning and police.

The squeeze on the opposition continued Wednesday, with several arrests outside KGB headquarters in Minsk, where relatives were protesting the continuing incarceration of their loved ones.

"Lukashenko can't scare all of us Belarusians," said Darya Korsak, the wife of Sannikov's spokesman Alexander Atroshenkov, who is also in custody. "Although everything that is happening is aimed at exactly that," she said, holding a candle and a portrait of her husband.

Lukashenko has never tolerated much dissent during the more than 16 years he has ruled Belarus, a country bordering Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania that has long been known as the "last dictatorship in Europe."

His administration has accused Poland and Germany of trying to overthrow him, claims the nations have rejected as absurd.

Poland and Germany were the most visible countries in the West's push for Lukashenko to ease his longtime repression of opponents. The countries' foreign ministers had promised Belarus euro3 billion ($4.05 billion) in aid from the European Union if the presidential elections were judged to be free and fair.

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David Nowak in Moscow contributed to this report.