Svoboda proposes that EU invite Milinkevic to attend summit

Brussels, March 20 (CTK) - The question of Alyaksandr Milinkevich?s participation at the EU summit is open, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik today reacted to the proposal by her Czech counterpart Cyril Svoboda that the EU invite the Belarussian opposition leader to he summit, due this weekend.

The EU Council today condemned the course of the Belarussian presidential election on Sunday, but it did not agree on whether to recognise the winner, re-elected authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, as the head of state.

"It would be stronger than anything else if Milinkevich could meet, immediately after the elections, prime ministers from the EU countries who would embrace him and tell him ?you embody democracy in our view, we take you as our partner.? In my opinion, this is the nearest possible correct step," Svoboda told journalists.

He said he had discussed the issue with Javier Solana, the EU?s high representative for foreign policy, and had asked Jan Kohout, the Czech ambassador to the EU, to continue promoting the proposal.

Svoboda also said he would probably ring up Plassnik over the issue on Tuesday.

Plassnik acquainted journalists with the stand of OSCE observers who say the Belarussian elections met neither OSCE criteria nor international standards, and that the wilful abuse of state power [by Lukashenko?s regime] has turned unacceptable in Belarus.

The participants in the meeting indicated that the EU would considerably extend its lists of the Belarussian officials banned from entering EU countries.

According to Svoboda and his Slovak colleague Eduard Kukan, Lukashenko should feature on top position on such a list.

"Already once we banned him from arriving at the NATO summit in Prague [in 2002], we have certain experience with this," said Svoboda.

Drafting such a long and publicly available list would be a painful sanction that could influence the atmosphere in Belarus, said Kukan.

The ministers present failed to reach consensus on possible further sanctions against Minsk. All of them, nevertheless, rejected the idea of across-the-board economic sanctions, saying this would undesirably affect the population.

Mainly Svoboda emphasised the necessity to provide maximum possible help to Belarussian society. "It is turning out that negotiations about a joint position [on the sanctions] will be quite complex," Svoboda said.

He said the recognition of the election result, or the legitimacy of Lukashenko?s another mandate, remains open as well.

"The EU says that the elections were undemocratic, non-transparent, rigged, but not invalid," Svoboda said.

He suggested that the EU coordinate its final position with the US?s.

"There were two streams of opinions. The old EU countries wanted a thorough analysis to be made first. They did not rule out the imposition of sanctions, however," Kukan said, referring to the EU Council?s preceding debate.

He said the discussion also touched on the fact that Lukashenko would have won the elections even if they had not been rigged or manipulated.

According to calculations submitted by the Lithuanian foreign minister, Lukashenko would have won 43 percent of the vote, and Milinkevich, the opposition?s chief candidate, 41 percent.

Referring to the demonstration of Lukashenko?s opponents in Minsk on Sunday evening, Svoboda said the authorities allowed the event to continue because there were many cameras, journalists and observers.

"It is necessary to hold on in the months to come, when the situation will be very difficult for the opposition," Svoboda said.