Latvia and Belarus sign border visa deal

Riga - Latvian Foreign Minister Aivis Ronis and his Belarusian counterpart Sergey Martinov signed a deal in Riga on Monday simplifying the visa regime between the two countries.

The new system allows people in border areas - including residents of Daugavpils, Latvia's second-largest city - to be issued with multilateral free border crossing permits for the purpose of visiting relatives, burial places, and cultural events.

Previously, visas were issued on an individual basis and incurred a fee.

Talks between the ministers centred on economic cooperation included what Martinov described as "serious transit opportunities" for the shipment of Venezuelan oil to Belarus via Latvia.

Martinov also hinted that a visit to Latvia by Belarus' authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko might take place before long.

"The time is ripe to consider such a possibility," Martinov said.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1995 and was on a European Union blacklist banning him from travel to the 27-member bloc until late 2008 when the EU removed his name from the list in a bid to encourage democratic reform.

Lukashenko's first visit to the EU since the end of the ban was made to Lithuania in September 2009.

In May, EU officials said they were "very concerned" about a reported crackdown on opponents of Lukashenko's authoritarian government ahead of presidential elections scheduled for 2011.


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