Belarussian leader warns EU to be patient over reform

(MINSK) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko warned the European Union on Monday it would have to wait patiently to see a new leader in the former Soviet republic.

Lukashenko, once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the United States, has ruled Belarussia in authoritarian fashion since 1994 and suggested he was in no rush to relinquish his hold on power.

Referring to himself in the third person, he said "Lukashenko is not eternal" but the EU would have to be patient if they wanted a different leader for the country.

The EU has repeatedly demanded improvement on human rights in Belarus and called for regime opponents to be able to operate freely.

"If Europe wants someone other than Lukashenko in charge of Belarussia, they must be patient and wait," he said.

"Lukashenko is not eternal, but at the moment Lukashenko is the president elected by the people and they (Europe) must be patient and engage with him."

The president was speaking as he received official credentials from 11 ambassadors, including representatives of EU countries, his press office said.

Relations between Brussels and Minsk have begun to thaw over the past year, with the EU lifting a travel ban imposed on Lukashenko over the country's human rights record.

Lukashenko said Belarussia would only make further concessions to Europe if it was in its interests to do so, and rejected opposition calls for the EU to pressure Minsk into democratic reform.

"If you (the EU) think you can put pressure on Belarus and Lukashenko to cave to opposition demands sent to Brussels, you should know that pressuring a country in the heart of Europe is abominable," he said.

On October 13 the Belarussian foreign minister said the country wanted to improve relations with the EU and was committed to making reforms.



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