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EU Commissioner To Hold Talks In Minsk With Lukashenka

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EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn

BRUSSELS -- Johannes Hahn, the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, will hold talks with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on April 16-17, during the bloc's first high-level visit to Minsk in five years.

Hahn is also due to meet with members of the opposition -- which is routinely repressed in Belarus -- during his visit, which is seen as a sign of improved EU-Belarus relations.

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The European Union has had limited contact with Belarus since Brussels imposed asset freezes and visa bans on Belarusian individuals and entities linked to Lukashenka's government after it detained and jailed opposition candidates following the 2010 presidential election.

The sanctions, which were renewed last year, currently affect 18 companies and 201 individuals, including Lukashenka.

But Brussels recently praised Belarus for its role in facilitating a cease-fire agreement that has eased the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Minsk may also receive a visa facilitation deal with the EU at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Latvia next month, with the possibility that Lukashenka will attend the event.

With reporting in Brussels by Rikard Jozwiak