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Belarus invited to summit on ex-Soviet states

Latest update : 2009-04-17

The EU has invited Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to a summit on relations with ex-Soviet states to take place in May, in a move that could spark criticism over Belarus' human rights record.

AFP - The European Union has invited Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to an EU summit on partnership with ex-Soviet states in Prague on May 7, the Czech foreign minister announced Friday.

Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he had met Lukashenko and handed over the invitation.

"It's up to the president... in which way Belarus will be represented at the conference," Schwarzenberg told reporters in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

The Prague summit is dedicated to an Eastern Partnership programme intended to develop ties with six non-EU states in the former Soviet bloc, the other states being Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Belarus' involvement had been in question because of differences over abuses of democratic and human rights standards in the country.

Lukashenko's regime was dubbed Europe's last dictatorship by the United States, but recent months have seen a warming of EU-Belarus ties, to the irritation of neighbouring Russia.

Speaking alongside Schwarzenberg, Belarussian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov sounded an upbeat note.

"The respected minister gave an invitation to the president to participate in the summit. In the coming days we will work to ensure this summit is a success," Martynov told journalists.

Russia has strongly criticised the Eastern Partnership as dividing Europe, forcing the states to between Moscow and Brussels.

Belarus has been a close partner of Russia and has established a formal "union state" arrangement with its giant neighbour, on which it depends crucially for gas and oil supplies.


Date created : 2009-04-17