15 Oct 2008

EU suspends visa ban on Belarussian leader

Belarus, often described as the last dictatorship in Europe, emerged from the diplomatic deep freeze Monday when the European Union temporarily lifted a travel ban on the country's president, Aleksandr Lukashenko.

With ties between the EU and Russia severely strained over the recent conflict in Georgia, European foreign ministers decided to relax restrictions on the Belarussian government in the hope of luring the country away from Moscow's sphere of influence.

Officially, the move Monday was in response to the recent release of political prisoners by the Belarussian government.

But diplomats in Brussels say they believe that the August military conflict between Georgia and Russia over the breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia may have prompted alarm among Russia's neighbours, including Belarus, that their independence is also at risk. Nevertheless, some nations remain sceptical that such fears can be exploited, and doubt that overtures will have any significant impact on the Belarussian government

International Herald Tribune