Minsk: Belarus' sports-mad President Alexander Lukashenko will not be able to attend the London Olympics because of EU sanctions against his regime, the British embassy in Minsk said on Thursday.

In January 2011, the European Union reinstated a travel ban against Lukashenko after the government launched an opposition crackdown in the wake of disputed elections.

The Belarussian leader, an avid sportsman who also heads the country's National Olympic Committee, "is on the list of persons denied entry into the EU," British embassy spokeswoman Inna Romashevskaya told media.

"This ban remains in effect and will be working during the Olympic Games. This decision will not be changed," she said two days before Friday's opening ceremony in London.

The EU sanctions against Belarus were imposed after a crackdown on Lukashenko's political opposition following controversial elections in December 2010, which resulted in many opposition leaders being convicted and jailed.

The ban on EU entry currently extends to almost 250 people in the government and court system. Dozens of Belarussian companies also face sanctions on doing business with Europe.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since the early 1990s, previously visited the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and Nagano in 1998. His press service declined to comment on his inability to travel to Britain.

Belarus excels in sports at the Olympics and has some world-class performers among its team of 172. Veteran female single-sculler Ekaterina Karsten and tennis number one Victoria Azarenka are among its top gold medal candidates.
Earlier this month Lukashenko wished good luck to the Olympians, saying he only expects the best: "There can only be victory. The main thing is winning, not participating."

The strongman leader is known to especially enjoy ice hockey but also plays football and tennis and is regularly seen on cross-country skis in the winter.


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