Ukraine faces row over Lukashenko

KIEV: Ukraine faced a diplomatic row on Sunday over the attendance of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko at a forthcoming summit on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Ukraine is inviting world leaders to a conference in Kiev on April 19 to mark the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident at its Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Its plan to have European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso open the conference was threatened by the possible attendance of Lukashenko, whose country was badly affected by radioactivity from the stricken reactor.

Lukashenko is on a Western blacklist for alleged rights abuses and Ukrainian media say Barroso has refused to take part if there was any likelihood of him turning up.

Late last week Kiev seemed to have found a solution. A senior Ukrainian presidential aide said Belarus would be represented by Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich who does not appear on a blacklist of Minsk officials. But on Sunday, Lukashenko’s office said he had received a personal invitation from President Viktor Yanukovich to attend the Kiev gathering and he intended to be there.

“We plan to ... take part in the Chernobyl events. I mean both the summit and the international conference,” Lukashenko’s press secretary, Pavel Lyokhy, told Reuters. Ukraine badly wants Barroso there since it sees the European Union as the pivotal force in efforts to secure a pledge of $600 million from the world community at the Kiev summit to build a new protective shield over the Chernobyl reactor.

But it also tries to maintain good relations with Belarus. Referring to media reports that Barroso had refused to go to the Kiev summit if Lukashenko was there, Lyokhy said: “If Mr. Barroso, for whatever reason, is afraid of meeting the Belarussian president that is his problem.”

The EU has led criticism of Lukashenko over a police crackdown on the political opposition in his ex-Soviet country and imposed sanctions on him including a travel ban to the West.

About 30 people, including several presidential candidates who contested Lukashenko’s 16-year grip on power in an election last December, are awaiting trial in connection with an opposition rally that was broken up by riot police. A source in the Ukrainian presidential administration hinted at a way out on Sunday, saying Lukashenko and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev might visit Kiev on April 26 — the anniversary of the 1986 nuclear disaster but some days after the international conference itself.


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