Minsk: The European Union agreed on Monday to suspend sanctions against the regime of Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko after he won a fifth term as president, even though observers said the poll was flawed.
Once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, Lukashenko, 61, won a fifth consecutive term yesterday, picking up 83.5 per cent of the vote, according to official figures.
EU foreign ministers have agreed to suspend sanctions for four months, after the elections passed off without incident, France's European affairs minister Harlem Desir told reporters after a meeting in Luxembourg.
But Desir said the sanctions could be "reinstated immediately" if need be.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there appeared to have been less repression than in past elections, but Washington voiced disappointment, saying the ballot fell "significantly short" of the country's commitment to free and fair polls.
Ahead of the vote EU diplomats had said Brussels was ready to reconsider the sanctions, which are set to expire on October 31, provided the polls passed off in an "acceptable climate".
But observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said earlier today the ballot's integrity had been undermined by "significant problems", especially during the counting of the votes.
"It is clear that Belarus still has a long way to go towards fulfilling its democratic commitments," said Kent Harstedt, head of the OSCE mission.