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Belarusian President Invites Pope To 'Peace Summit' In Minsk

Pope Francis (left) meets with a delegation from Belarus led by President Alyaksandr Lukashena (right) in the Vatican on May 21.
Pope Francis (left) meets with a delegation from Belarus led by President Alyaksandr Lukashena (right) in the Vatican on May 21.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has invited Pope Francis to meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church for a peace summit in Minsk.

Lukashenka extended the invitation during a meeting with the pope on May 21 at the Vatican, saying that the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine required a new initiative that was "preferably also spiritual."

Lukashenka said he also wanted to invite Ukrainian religious leaders to the summit along with representatives of Judaism and Islam.

There was no immediate word on the Vatican's response to the invitation, and it was not immediately clear if Lukashenka's idea for the proposed summit was a gathering that would focus exclusively on Ukraine's conflict.

But the Vatican praised Minsk for serving as a base for peace negotiations between Ukraine's government and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Lukashenka was quoted after his talks with the pontiff as saying: "Everything is in God's hands. If he gives his blessing, then the supreme heads of the [Roman] Catholic and Orthodox churches will meet on Belarusian soil."

The pope's meeting with Lukashenka took place at the Vatican library shortly after the Belarusian president concluded trade talks in Rome on May 21 with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Lukashenka's visit to Italy comes as he tries to nurture recently improved ties with the West -- particularly with the European Union.

Brussels has been lifting economic sanctions that the EU imposed against Belarus in response to its harsh crackdown on opposition lawmakers, independent media, and civil society activists.

As Minsk has sought to improve ties with the West, Lukashenka increasingly has been coming under pressure from Russia -- which has seen its relations with the EU and the United States deteriorate over the Kremlin's occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea and Moscow's military support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With reporting by dpa, TASS, and Interfax
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