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EU planning second round of sanctions on Belarus officials

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is planning to add more Belarus officials to the list of 40 individuals on whom it has imposed sanctions over an Aug. 9 election the West says was rigged and a violent clampdown on protests that followed the poll.

“There will be ... an announcement that we are working on more and more people to be sanctioned,” an EU official said ahead of a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers on Monday, without giving details.

Those facing travel bans and asset freezes on the sanctions list published last week included Belarus’ interior minister and the election commission chief.

The sanctions aim to support pro-democracy protests in Minsk against President Alexander Lukashenko, whom opponents say has illegally prolonged his 26-year rule through a fraudulent vote.

Lukashenko was not on the EU’s sanctions list despite pressure from Baltic countries because some member states believe punishing the president should be a last resort to ensure that he can still be leaned on to hold new elections.

This will be debated again when a new sanctions list is discussed at Monday’s meeting, a senior EU diplomat said.

“For us it’s important to hold those accountable up to the highest political level if the situation doesn’t change,” said the diplomat, who requested anonymity.

“But let’s keep the eye on the ball. We would like to have free and fair elections, a good democratic transition, a firm role for the opposition -- and there, Lukashenko has a role.”

Belarus earlier announced retaliatory sanctions against the EU last week.

Reporting by John Chalmers; Editing by Catherine Evans