Czechs defend Lukashenko's invitation to EU summit

Author : DPA

Prague - Czech officials Friday defended decision to invite Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, whose undemocratic rule earned him the label of Europe's last dictator, to next week's summit aimed at tying six ex-Soviet states closer to the European Union. Outgoing Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who invited Lukashenko to the top-level meeting, told a news conference that Belarusians would not benefit if the EU chose to leave their country "in the dark."

At the May 7 summit in Prague, EU leaders are to launch the so-called Eastern Partnership initiative designed to strengthen ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine through increased aid and partnership deals.

The decision to invite Lukashenko has been opposed by some EU member states and leaders of Belarus' pro-democratic groups.

The EU's policy of engaging undemocratic regimes also meant a policy reversal for the Czechs, who denied Lukashenko a visa for a NATO summit held in Prague in 2002.

Schwarzenberg, whose country chairs the EU until June 30, personally handed over the invitation to Lukashenko during a recent Minsk visit.

While the presidency insisted it had invited Belarus and it was up to Belarus' leaders to decide who would represent it, Schwarzenberg's spokeswoman conceded to the German Press Agency



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