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Slovakia: President Will Not Attend Regional Conference

Vilnius, 3 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Slovakia's President Michal Kovac will not attend an international conference in Vilnius this week. Conference organizer Petras Vaitiekunas said he was "disturbed" that Slovakia would not attend, but said "things happen," and noted that top officials from eleven other countries agreed to participate.

Other invited heads of state from the region expected to participate include the presidents of Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Belarus, as well as Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The conference, focusing on good neighborly relations and stability of Europe, was conceived abroad a Polish warship last Autumn. It was then that Lithuania's President Algirdas Brazauskas met Poland's President Alexsandr Kwasniewski, and agreed jointly to sponsor the conference.

According to conference organizer Vaitiekunas in Vilnius, meetings will focus on the values on which a "new Europe" will be formed. Vaitiekunas cited democracy and freedom of the press as especially important topics, with which the conference would deal, in building a stable European environment.

President Kovac's spokesman Vladimir Stefko told RFE/RL today that President Kovac had a very busy schedule, which could not be changed.

The invitation to Belarus' President Alyaksandr Lukasenka has been a hotly discussed and debated topic in the Lithuanian press.

There was speculation Slovakia's Kovac might have turned down the invitation due to Lukasenka's presence, but Slovak officials were quick to deny those assertions.

Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel is hosting his own international conference in Prague, and the Czech Ambassador in Vilnius will participate.

Other expected participants include Estonia's President Lennart Meri, Latvia's President Guntis Ulmanis, Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma, Hungary's President Arpad Goncz, Moldova's President Petru Lucinschi and honorary guest, Finland's President Martti Ahtisaar. In addition, Denmark's Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen (Denmark currently holds the OSCE presidency), Germany's former Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Gencher, Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz and Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President Lenni Fischer are expected to attend.