EU invites Lukashenko to Eastern Partnership summit

Prague/Minsk  - The European Union invited on Friday Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko to a Prague summit at which EU leaders plan to launch their so-called Eastern Partnership initiative, aimed at tying six ex-Soviet countries closer to the 27-member bloc, officials said.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country chairs the EU until June 30, delivered the invitation for Belarus while meeting the president, said Schwarzenberg's spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova.

"The invitation is for Belarus and the president is its addressee as the head of state. But we do not have a confirmation that he will arrive," Opletalova told the German Press Agency dpa.

The president by mid-afternoon Friday has made no official comment on whether he intended to accept the invitation. His office would not comment.

Lukashenko, whom the previous US administration billed Europe's last dictator for holding a tight grip on his country, has earlier suggested that he may not attend the summit to be held on May 7.

"I don't think it really matters who goes to Prague: whether I do or somebody else does," he told the Euronews television channel earlier this year.

In 2002, the Czech Republic denied Lukashenko a visa for a NATO summit held then in Prague.

The EU hopes to bring closer Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine through increased aid and partnership deals. However, the plan does not offer full EU membership to the six countries.

The programme is seen as a bid to mitigate Russia's influence in its neighbourhood. Originally proposed by Sweden and Poland as an Eastern counterweight to the France-pushed initiative to boost ties in the Mediterranean, the Eastern Partnership plan gained further ground after Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008. (dpa)