Updated at 11:56,07-12-2016

Norwegian government appeals: No talks with Lukashenka

The cause for the appeal was a recent article in Aftenposten newspaper criticizing agreements between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Oslo conducts the negotiations on behalf of the EFTA, an organization which members besides Norway include three non-EU states – Switzerland, Iceland and Lichtenstein. Famous human rights defenders and public figures appeared in the newspaper calling on the country's government not to hold any talks with Alyaksandr Lukashenka regime that "fakes voting results and throws people to prison and tortures them for their political views".

According to Norwegian media, the issue was discussed on Thursday at a meeting of the Parliamentary Commission for fForeign Affairs and Defence with participation of the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. According to observers, the debate was the start of the discussion on further cooperation with Belarus.

"We need an updated and stronger strategy on Belarus", the commission chair Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide said. She called Belarus "the last dictatorship of Europe" and added the living standards of the people of Belarus had only been declining in the past year. She criticized the position of the country's Foreign Minister concerning the agreements between the EFTA and Minsk.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre spoke in favour of free trade with Belarus, because the country is a member of the Customs Union, an important partner for the EFTA. The Norwegian Foreign Minister is confident the agreements with Minsk may become a channel for Norway to convey critical messages to the Belarusian authorities.

As noted by MP and coordinator of the Progress Party Morten Høglund, "politicians should take care to prevent agreements on free trade with Belarus from serving other purposes".