EU Set to Ease Belarus' Isolation

BRUSSELS — European Union nations look set to ease the isolation of Belarus on Monday, seeking to spur democratic reforms in the country.

The EU's 27 foreign ministers will hold talks with their Belarus counterpart, Sergei Martynov, in Luxembourg, the first high-level contact with Belarus since the EU put a ban on such meetings in 2004.

Finland and Poland are leading a push within the EU to ease sanctions against Minsk after Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko eased restrictions on opposition leaders and groups.

The EU ministers are also considering a plan to suspend visa bans slapped on a number of Belarus officials if Lukashenko moves to implement democratic reforms, including the scrapping of a restrictive media law.

An assets freeze on the officials, including Lukashenko, is expected to stay in place, however. The EU imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and top Belarus officials following several crackdowns against the opposition since 1999.

Lukashenko has recently signaled his intention to improve ties with the West at a time when he is arguing with Russia over energy prices.

Belarussian authorities released detained opposition figures after Western governments demanded they be freed. Belarus' government also allowed opposition candidates to take part in Sept. 28 parliamentary elections, even though none of the 70 opposition candidates won places in the 110-seat parliament and European observers concluded the elections fell short of international standards.