Berlusconi To Visit Belarus In Autumn - Envoy

MINSK, Belarus (AFP)--Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will visit Belarus this autumn, Italy's ambassador said Friday, in a sign of warming ties between this formerly outcast ex-Soviet state and the European Union.

Berlusconi will attend a festival in Minsk on the theme of the Renaissance in Italy, Ambassador Giulio Prigioni told reporters in the Belarussian capital.

"The embassy is working on preparations for the Italian prime minister's visit to Belarus... Undoubtedly this event will take place and will be an important step in the history of Belarussian-Italian relations," he said.

He didn't give a precise date for the visit.

Last month Lukashenko visited Italy and the Vatican for meetings with Berlusconi and Pope Benedict XVI, signifying that the Belarussian leader is gradually shaking off his reputation in the West as Europe's last dictator.

That visit was Lukashenko's first trip to western Europe since he visited France in 1996, as well as the first since an E.U. travel ban on top Belarussian officials was relaxed in October.

Lukashenko has long been an ally of Russia, despite some tensions between the two neighbors.

The European Union has severely criticized his record on human rights and respect for democracy, notably relating to the disappearance of critics of the government that occurred around the turn of this decade.



Partners: Social Network