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Lukashenka Says He Will Make No New Concessions To West


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka has told the West to expect no new concessions if it truly wanted further improvements in relations with his ex-Soviet state.

Lukashenka has been seeking better ties with Western countries, particularly the European Union, after quarrelling with traditional ally Russia two years ago over energy issues.

Belarus has since released all detainees viewed in the West as political prisoners and held an election deemed an improvement over previous contests. Lukashenka in April visited Italy, his first official trip to the West since the mid-1990s.

But Lukashenka, touring provincial regions, said he hoped to smooth over problems at talks next week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. No one, he said, should count on a policy U-turn.

"If someone in the West believes our relations with Russia are spoiled and that we can now manipulate Lukashenka into letting all criminals out of prison and smashing our laws, they have got it wrong," local media quoted him as saying.

"If someone is counting on machinations of one sort or another to take authority away from those in power and hand to the opposition, it will not work."

Lukashenka said he and Medvedev would "discuss the entire range of issues which remain outstanding" next week in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Moscow has been unhappy with Lukashenka's attempts to curry favor with the West. It particularly objects to Minsk's participation in the EU's new "Eastern Partnership" cooperation plan with ex-communist states, which it views as anti-Russian.

Moscow has also so far failed to persuade Minsk to recognize the Russian-backed Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a move that would generate condemnation in the West.

Belarus is irritated by Moscow's about-face on pledges to extend a $500 million credit and by recurring rows over the access of Belarusian goods to the Russian market.

Lukashenka told reporters the various problems did not mean a worsening of relations: "The only people who have no problems are those who do nothing at all."

Ties with the EU have thawed somewhat following a number of improvements in Belarus's human rights record -- including changes to election law, expanded rights for the liberal and nationalist opposition and for independent media.
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