The European Union is reportedly ready to welcome President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus to its Eastern Partnership (EaP) meeting next month.
It is the first time EU officials have permitted Lukashenka to attend the meeting. The EaP summit will open in Brussels on November 24.
EU sources say Belarus was invited to take part in the summit "without restrictions" -- just like the five other EaP members: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The sources spoke with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Both RFE/RL and Voice of America are part of the United States-financed Broadcasting Board of Governors.
There were four earlier EaP summits. Before each of them, the EU said the president of Belarus was not welcome to attend. Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for 21 years. He has been called the “last dictator of Europe.”
Lukashenko has been president since 1994. He won a fifth term in a 2015 election that Western observers say was neither free nor fair.
The Belarus government was represented by its foreign minister at the last Eastern Partnership summit, which was held in Riga in 2015.
The EU launched the partnership in 2009 to support economic integration and European values in six Eastern European and South Caucasus countries.
The EU announced restrictive measures against Belarus in 2004 after two opposition politicians disappeared. In 2010, the European Council took steps to punish Belarus after unrest following their earlier presidential election.
But in February 2016, the EU lifted most of the restrictions against the country. The organization said it had cancelled the sanctions “in response to the release of all Belarusian political prisoners on [August 22, 2016] and in the context of improving EU-Belarus relations.”
I’m Dorothy Gundy.
Rikard Jozwiak reported this story from Brussels for RFE/RL. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
summit – n. a meeting or meetings between top leaders
source – n. a person who supplies what is wanted or needed; the cause of something
integration – n. the act of uniting different things
in the context of – expression when considered with related events