EU postpones Belarus visit

(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission has postponed its second recent high-level visit to Belarus planned for Friday after indications officials may not be able to meet hardline President Alexander Lukashenko.

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner indicated in late February that she would soon visit Belarus to meet Lukashenko, who has been dubbed Europe's last dictator by the United States.

But the commission issued a brief statement Wednesday saying the visit had been pushed back and would take place in mid-April, without providing specific reasons.

A source at the commission said the visit was postponed because certain officials the EU planned to meet were not in Minsk.

The Belarus presidency's website says Lukashenko left for a visit to Armenia on Wednesday, though it was unclear how long he was to remain.

Ferrero-Waldner was to be the second high-ranking EU official to visit Belarus in recent weeks.

In February, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana held his first meeting with Lukashenko amid signs of a thaw in relations between Minsk and Europe.

Lukashenko has been criticised for cracking down on opponents but over the last months has made cautious overtures to the West.

Last October, EU foreign ministers suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko and several associates in a move designed to encourage democracy in the wake of disputed elections.



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