Lukashenko calls on West to 'accept' Belarus


MINSK - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday called on the West to "accept" his country amid signs of a thaw in a state described by Washington as Europe's last dictatorship.

"Belarus does not want dialogue with the West through the 'iron curtain' it has built on its border," Lukashenko said in an interview with Western journalists ahead of parliamentary polls. "We want dialogue in all areas."

"We want you to accept us and to recognize our elections," Lukashenko said, according to excerpts of the interview provided by his office.

Both Europe and Belarus have moved towards mending strained ties in the run-up to the Sept. 28 elections.

Last month Lukashenko released Belarus' highest-profile political prisoner, former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin and the remaining political prisoners being held there.

European foreign ministers on Monday responded by holding out the prospect of aid and lifted sanctions in a bid to persuade Lukashenko to hold democratic elections.

Following the prisoner release, Washington also said the move set the stage for a "significant" improvement in ties.

Lukashenko said Western monitoring of the upcoming elections would prove that Belarus was a genuine democracy.

"We have opened the country for you. Come, look, observe, whether the pre-election campaign, the voting and the election itself are undertaken in line with our laws," he said.

Forty Belarussian figures, including the president, have been banned from entering the EU since the 2006 presidential election which was judged not to comply with international norms.

Last week a major Belarus opposition party leader warned that Western countries would turn a blind eye to fraud in next month's legislative election and recognize a win for the outgoing authoritarian regime.



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