The Council discussed the presidential election held on 19 March. After the discussion, the Presidency noted that ministers:
– had just received the preliminary conclusions of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission and agreed with its assessment that the presidential elections in Belarus were severely flawed due to arbitrary use of state power, obviously designed to protect the incumbent President, which went far beyond acceptable practice, and other shortcomings.
– had, over the last few months, repeatedly called on the Belarusian authorities to abide by international standards and Belarus' commitments in the OSCE and the UN to assure a free and fair electoral process, and firmly condemned the serious violations of candidates' campaigning rights, including acts of harassment, detention and violence against candidates and campaign workers.
– wished to stress clearly once again that the EU's intention is not to target the Belarusian population, with which it wishes to stay engaged, and that it regrets the policy of self-isolation of the Belarus authorities.
– will start discussion on restrictive measures against those responsible for these acts, in line with the Council Conclusions of 7 November 2005 and 30 January 2006.
– had also witnessed, in the course of this election campaign, the emergence of pluralistic forces and the consolidation of a genuine Belarusian opposition as well as a politically active civil society. In very difficult circumstances and at great personal risk, opposition candidates and their supporters had managed to offer the Belarusian population a democratic alternative. Their efforts deserved the EU's recognition and support.
– urged the Belarusian authorities to allow the people of Belarus to exercise their right of assembly and freedom of expression in line with their OSCE commitments and cautioned the government not to threaten or detain those eercising their political rights in the coming days and beyond.