V4 ministers call on Belarus to release political prisoners

Bratislava, March 3 (CTK) - The Visegrad Four (V4) countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, called on the regime of Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko to release political prisoners and stop intimidating the opposition, at a meeting of their foreign ministers in Bratislava Thursday.

If Minsk does not do so, it faces the risk of further sanctions and isolation, the ministers agreed.

The Czech Republic was represented by Foreign Minister and TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg at the joint meeting of the V4 countries, Germany and representatives of the countries involved in the the Eastern Partnership programme to enhance EU cooperation with six post-Soviet republics.

"The country with a totalitarian rule has no future. We have sent a clear message to President Lukashenko - no discussion with his regime can be taken into consideration if only a single political prisoner remains behind bars," said Slovak Foreign Minister Mikulas Dzurinda (senior government Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party, SDKU-DS).

Belorussian deputy foreign minister Valery Voronetsky, who attended the V4 talks, heard the criticism of his country. However, he did not meet journalists afterwards to comment on it.

The statement of the V4 countries' foreign ministers criticising the Belarussian regime followed up a similar resolution of the V4 prime ministers.

They called on Minsk to release the imprisoned activists who protested against the result of the presidential election in Belarus in which Lukashenko defended his post, at a summit in Bratislava in mid-February.

Lukashenko, who has been the Belarussian head of state for 16 years, was re-elected president last December, receiving almost 80 percent of the vote.

Belarusian opposition activists, who visited Bratislava these days, can rely on EU support.

At the end of January, the EU banned Lukashenko and other Belarusian governing politicians from entering its territory and froze their finances in the EU countries.

"If Belarus does not develop in a positive direction, the EU will take further steps," Polish Foreign Ministry state secretary Mikolaj Dowgielevicz said Thursday, without elaborating.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle Thursday recalled that only democratic countries have a chance of entering the EU.

"The bridge to the EU is called democracy. Those who want to join the EU, must share democratic values," he stressed.

The foreign ministers along with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton Thursday also supported the six post-Soviet republics participating in the Eastern Partnership programme.

The V4 countries promised, for instance, to help in the implementation of reforms and joint projects financed by the V4 fund.

The Eastern Partnership comprises Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.


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