Belarus deputy PM to take part in EU meet

(BRUSSELS) - Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko and not President Alexander Lukashenko will represent Belarus when the European Union meets this week with six ex-Soviet states, the EU presidency said Monday.

The participation of Lukashenko -- dubbed the "last dictator in Europe" by the United States -- in Thursday's summit in Prague was never ruled out by the EU.

But his attendance appeared unlikely after he criticised the way invitations were handed out without the names of leaders or senior officials from Armenia Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine printed on them.

The "Eastern Partnership" talks are aimed at boosting the EU's ties with the six to accelerate political and economic reforms in the region and dilute the influence of their big neighbour Russia.

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, whose remarks about Romania have caused tensions with Bucharest, will also be absent, the Czech EU presidency said.

He will be represented by Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Stratan, whose portfolios include foreign affairs and European integration.

The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine will attend.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a rival of President Viktor Yushchenko, is also likely to take part, according to the presidency.

On the EU side, the leaders of Britain, France and Spain are not expected.



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