Updated at 15:34,14-12-2017

Lukashenka To Skip Upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit In Brussels

RFE/RL

Lukashenka To Skip Upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit In Brussels
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Belarus says President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will not attend the European Union's Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on November 24.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Shuplyak said on November 21 that the Belarusian delegation at the summit will be led by Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey.

EU sources told RFE/RL in October that, for the first time, the bloc had invited Lukashenka to the Eastern Partnership summit “without restrictions” -- just like the heads of the five other members: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Ahead of the previous four summits, the EU made it clear that Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 23 years and has been called "Europe's last dictator" by some Western officials, was not welcome.

Minsk was represented by Makey at the last Eastern Partnership summit, held in Riga in 2015.

The EU launched the Eastern Partnership in 2009 to promote economic integration and European values in the six Eastern European and South Caucasus countries.

Lukashenka, who has been president since 1994, won a fifth term in a 2015 election that was judged by Western monitors to be neither free nor fair.

The EU introduced restrictive measures against the country in 2004 in connection with the unresolved disappearances of two opposition politicians, one businessman, and one journalist.

The European Council adopted further sanctions in the wake of the crackdown that followed the previous presidential election in December 2010.

But in February 2016, the EU lifted most sanctions against the country -- asset freezes and visa bans on 170 Belarusians, including Lukashenka and senior officials, and restrictive measures against 14 companies.

It said the sanctions were lifted "in response to the release of all Belarusian political prisoners on [August 22, 2016] and in the context of improving EU-Belarus relations."