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Belarus: Czechs Reject Lukashenka Visa Request For NATO Meeting

Prague, 15 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Czech Republic has rejected a visa request by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to attend the NATO summit in Prague next week. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said today that the visa will not be granted because of the Belarusian government's record on human rights. He said Czech officials do not want Lukashenka to use the visit to "legitimize his position" in Belarus. Svoboda said a Belarusian delegation will be given visas to attend the two-day summit beginning on 21 November.

NATO officials have said Lukashenka is unwelcome at the summit because of his autocratic rule and opposition to NATO enlargement.

Belarus is not a NATO member, but belongs to the NATO-related Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which is to meet in Prague on 22 November.

In related news, a European Commission spokesman today said EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on 18-19 November are "almost certain" to impose a visa ban on the Belarus leadership. Gunnar Wiegand, spokesman for external affairs, said the EU's candidate countries are expected to support the decision.

He also criticized the threat by Lukashenka to drop controls on Belarus's borders -- and allow drug traffickers and illegal immigrants free passage -- if he's not allowed to travel to the NATO summit in Prague next week. Wiegand said the threat is not "the most reasonable way to react to justified criticism of the record of democracy and human rights in Belarus."

Wiegand said the EU retains "full confidence" in the capacities of the border-monitoring services in Poland and other EU candidate countries.