Belarus strongman urges EU to lift sanctions

(MINSK) - Belarus' autocratic leader Tuesday called for the European Union to lift sanctions against his country and vowed not to seek closer ties with the West at the expense of its old ally Russia.

"Belarus is waiting for Europe to lift any sanctions it imposed," President Alexander Lukashenko said in a meeting with Western election observers who had criticised a Sunday parliamentary vote in the former Soviet state.

"If we are asked to improve relations with Europe at the expense of Russia, we will not agree to this," added Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 14 years and has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by US officials.

Lukashenko was meeting observers from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) who had said the vote fell short of democratic standards after not a single opposition party won a seat in parliament.

The EU's presidency on Tuesday voiced concern about the elections based on the OSCE report.

The 27-nation bloc had earlier offered to ease sanctions, lift a travel ban on Belarus' leaders and give economic aid if Belarus showed signs of democratic progress.

Analysts have said that by reaching out to Belarus ahead of the poll, the European Union and the United States were trying to widen the gap between the economically backward country and Russia.



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