Latvia Rejects Criticism Of Belarus Meeting

RIGA, Latvia (AFP)--Latvia Wednesday rejected claims Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis had flouted European Union sanctions against Belarus by hosting its premier at a secret meeting, saying the E.U. had known about the talks.

"Our European Union partners were informed about this meeting beforehand," Edgars Vaikulis, a spokesman for Godmanis, told AFP.

Godmanis has been under fire since his June 11 border meeting with opposite number Sergei Sidorsky came to light several days ago thanks to some investigative reporting by a Latvian television show.

President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 and is dubbed " Europe's last dictator" because of regular crackdowns and tough day-to-day restrictions on the opposition as well as alleged election-rigging.

Both Latvia and Belarus became independent as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, but the former is now anchored firmly in the Western camp, having joined the E.U. and NATO in 2004.

Vaikulis said the two premiers had discussed energy supply as well as the transport sector. Latvia's ports, railways and highways are key conduits for goods being transported through the region.

He said the meeting was "related to economic ties between the two countries, and the E.U. doesn't object to economic development in its member states."



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