Dutch oppose EU invitation to Lukashenko

Author : DPA

Hluboka Castle, Czech Republic - The Netherlands opposes European Union plans to invite Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to a May 7 summit in Prague, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said Friday. "According to our view, President Lukaschenko should not be given a political platform on May 7th," Verhagen said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Czech Republic.

In May, the European Union will officially launch the EU's Eastern Partnership, an initiative designed to boost the bloc's ties with Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova and Belarus, but only if Minsk shows itself open to democratic reforms.

Through the partnership, the EU hopes to boost trade relations and provide its support for economic and democratic reforms in the former-Soviet area.

At a meeting on March 16, EU foreign ministers agreed to keep a visa ban aimed at the Belarusian regime on ice for nine more months. But they also agreed to extend the ban itself in a bid to draw what has been called "Europe's last dictatorship" closer to the West.

The EU's external affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said in Hluboka on Friday that the EU's "mixed response" to Belarus was the product of mixed signals coming out of Minsk.

"They have made some progress, but we would like to see more," Ferrero-Waldner said.

"This discussion has only just started. And it is not an easy decision," said the commissioner, who saw a planned visit to Minsk "postponed" by Lukashenko at the last minute.

Despite Lukashenko's diplomatic slight, contacts between Minsk and Brussels are continuing, Ferrero-Waldner said. She noted that the EU and Belarus planned to hold a first round of talks on human rights in April, while a delegation from the European Parliament was expected to visit Minsk during the coming week week.

The commissioner said she expected a decision on whether to include Lukashenko on the Eastern Partnership's guest list only shortly before the summit was due to take place.



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