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European Parliament Members Seek Explanation For Lukashenka's Dinner Invite

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

BRUSSELS -- Five members of the European Parliament have demanded an explanation as to why Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been invited to a dinner in Brussels marking the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership.

Several European Union officials told RFE/RL last month that an invitation had been sent to Lukashenka to attend the May 13 dinner alongside the leaders of the EU's other five Eastern partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Lukashenka had not yet responded to the invitation and that they did not expect him to show up.

But the fact that Lukashenka was invited in the first place was troubling, according to the letter, which was initiated by British parliament member Julie Ward and addressed to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Lukashenka’s “regime has maintained a poor human rights record, suppressing dissent, and attacking freedom of speech," said the letter, which was seen by RFE/RL.

"European and Belarus citizens deserve a credible explanation for the invitation, which risks giving the impression of endorsing the [Lukashenka] regime," it said.

“The nature of the regime is an affront to the values espoused by the European Union, which is built on the principles of democracy and the respect for human rights,” it added.

There has been no confirmation of any official Belarusian attendance at the dinner, though it was possible Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makei, who attended the 2017 Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, might attend.

That summit was the first high-level event organized by the EU in which Lukashenka was cleared to attend after having been excluded from the previous four summits.

Belarus, which has been under Lukashenka's rule for 25 years and has been called "Europe's last dictatorship," was sanctioned by Brussels in the wake of the crackdown that followed the presidential election in December 2010.

But in February 2016, in response to the release of all political prisoners, the EU lifted most sanctions against the country.

Those included the lifting of asset freezes and visa bans on 170 Belarusians, Lukashenka among them, and restrictive measures against 14 companies.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.