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Page last updated at 15:50 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 16:50 UK

Belarus gets EU summit invitation

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
Mr Lukashenko has been shunned by the West for years

The Czech Republic has invited Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to an EU summit next month, despite criticism of his record on human rights.

As current holder of the EU presidency, the Czechs will host the "Eastern Partnership" summit in Prague on 7 May.

The EU has suspended a travel ban it imposed on Mr Lukashenko and other top officials.

The EU wants to develop closer energy and trade links with Belarus and five other ex-Soviet states.

But Mr Lukashenko previously indicated that he would not attend the summit, even if he were invited, the Czech news agency CTK reported.

The Czech EU presidency said the invitation was made by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg at a meeting with Mr Lukashenko in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Friday.

"Belarus itself will decide who will represent the country at the summit," the Czech official statement said.

Mr Schwarzenberg "pointed out the problems with registration of several non-governmental organisations" in Belarus, the statement went on.

His counterpart Sergey Martynov replied that "society cannot be changed overnight".

The other countries invited to the partnership summit with the EU are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Moldova tensions

In light of the recent riots in Moldova, neighbouring Romania - an EU member state - has pledged to fast-track citizenship applications from Moldovans.

But the Czech Deputy Prime Minister, Alexandr Vondra, has told Romania of his "serious concern about the risks that would arise if Romania adopted a simplified procedure of granting citizenship".

Moldova-Romania relations soured last week, with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin accusing Romania of trying to topple his government by supporting the anti-communist protesters.

Moldova expelled Romania's ambassador and introduced visas for Romanians.

The EU has stepped up diplomatic contacts with Belarus since the authorities in Minsk released political prisoners last year.

Mr Schwarzenberg's visit included a meeting with opposition representatives, who were quoted as saying the situation in Belarus had "recently been changing for the better, albeit the changes are not system-related".

"Officials who violate human rights by repression are not being held accountable," the statement quoted them as saying.

Correspondents say Mr Lukashenko has kept many characteristic features of the Soviet period - above all, a political system that suppresses dissent and obedient media that devote much coverage to the leader's activities.



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