Belarus 'got what it wanted' from EU summit: Lukashenko

(MINSK) - President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday said that Belarus was happy with the results of its participation in a landmark EU summit aimed at fostering ties with ex-Soviet states.

"We got what we were counting on," he said of the European Union's Eastern Partnership initiative unveiled at the talks in Prague this week.

"This project is needed... Why should we renounce partnership with our neighbours? It is a profitable, sensible project," he said.

Minsk was represented at the summit by Belarus' deputy prime minister after rumours of Lukashenko's possible participation stirred controversy among EU member states.

The comments Friday represented a softening of his stance after the Belarussian leader -- whose regime was dubbed Europe's last dictatorship by the United States -- slammed the EU's preparations for the summit.

But Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet republic since 1994, has made a push for greater dialogue with the EU as the country's shaky Soviet-style economy hits trouble amid the global financial crisis and years of sanctions.

"There are tariffs that we have to break through, barriers to trade. The prices are doubled, for example, on tractors," he said in the speech to workers at a mining town south of Minsk.

"Is there not sense in having a free trade zone with the European Union? By getting rid of duties, we only become richer," he said.

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



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