Lukashenko spurns EU invitation

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/ europe/8029599.stm

Published: 2009/05/01 15:51:52 GMT


Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko will not attend an EU summit in
Prague next Thursday, despite an invitation from the Czech Republic.

"Mr Lukashenko is not on the list of participants - the deadline has
already gone," the Czech prime minister's spokesman told the BBC on
Friday.

The Czechs, who hold the EU presidency, will host an "Eastern
Partnership" summit with six former Soviet states.

The EU's relations with Mr Lukashenko have been frosty until recently.

For years, EU member states and the United States have criticised him
for authoritarian methods, such as muzzling the press and jailing
dissidents.

But the EU has stepped up diplomatic contacts with Belarus since the
authorities in Minsk released political prisoners last year. The EU
also suspended a travel ban it had imposed on Mr Lukashenko and other
top Belarussian officials.

The Czech government spokesman, Jiri Potuznik, said it was "up to the
Belarus government to decide who would represent it" in Prague and that
the participating countries were "supposed to send their number one or
two".

He said he could not confirm who Belarus would send, but made it clear
that it would not be Mr Lukashenko.

The EU wants to develop closer energy and trade links with Belarus and
five other ex-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and
Ukraine.

Mr Lukashenko received a personal invitation last month from Czech
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg in Minsk.

On Monday, the Belarus leader met Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on
his first official visit to Western Europe since 1995.