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Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is meeting the pope today, only slightly upstaged by the pontiff's meeting with Charles and Camilla.

And after all the collective concerns about being seen with Lukashenka, one European leader has stepped up to the plate: yes, Silvio Berlusconi. The two are expected to dine together later this evening.

According to Alexander Lukashuk, the head of our Belarus Service, Lukashenka's meeting with Berlusconi will be his first with a leader of a Western European state in 14 years.

The Italians, according to dpa, will push Lukashenka on human rights:

Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko would be told during his meeting with Italian leaders Monday to respect human rights, Italy's foreign minister has said ahead of the meeting.

Lukashenko's visit to Rome which includes a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, is seen as a diplomatic breakthrough for the former Soviet republic which for years has been isolated because of government persecution of political opposition and independent media.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini defended the decision to invite Lukashenko to Rome in a letter to Milan-based daily, Corriere della Sera.

"The Italian government's message to President Lukashenko will be one based on fundamental European principles on the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of Belarusian men and women," Frattini wrote in the letter published Monday.

But it looks like the Italians are wary of Lukashenka bleating too much about the meetings. Unlike Charles and Camilla, he isn't scheduled for a press conference.

-- Luke Allnutt

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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