Belarus won't 'copy' West: Lukashenko

(MINSK) - Belarus's strongman President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday that his country would not copy Western political systems despite efforts to forge closer ties with the Europe Union.

"It becomes evident that Belarus must not fully copy the Western political system," Lukashenko was quoted as saying by his press service during a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of Belarus's liberation from Nazi forces and its independence day.

"There is a much more productive way into the European common house -- to cooperate in facing new challenges and threats of our time, solving global financial problems, combatting terrorism, drug and slave trafficking and other issues impacting the lives of millions," he said.

"As for quarrels on who has the best parliament, where is more democracy and human rights -- they only lead to an impasse," he added.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus in an authoritarian fashion since 1994 and was once famously dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington.

But over the past year, the EU has switched to a policy of engagement, widely seen as an effort to pull Belarus out of Russia's orbit.

It lifted a travel ban on Lukashenko and brought the country into its Eastern Partnership plan.

In return Lukashenko has freed some political prisoners, but analysts doubt that he will agree to far-reaching reforms that might threaten his grip on power.

"I am glad to see that biased stereotypes on Belarus have begun to fall in the European Union and that they realise that our country is an integral part of Europe and has its own voice," Lukashenko said Thursday.

"We cooperate with our traditional partners but reach out also to those who seek good and sincere friends in us," he said.

As such, Russia remained "our strategic partner and we will seek to develop true alliances with it, putting it above petty disputes," he added.

Moscow has been angered at Belarus's moves to seek closer ties with the European Union, while Lukashenko has blasted Moscow for dragging its feet on a loan to the cash-strapped country.



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