Italy to urge Belarus' President Lukashenko to respect human rights

Italy to urge Belarus' President Lukashenko to respect human rights Rome - Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko would be told during his meeting with Italian leaders Monday to respect human rights, Italy's foreign minister has said ahead of the meeting. Lukashenko's visit to Rome which includes a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, is seen as a diplomatic breakthrough for the former Soviet republic which for years has been isolated because of government persecution of political opposition and independent media.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini defended the decision to invite Lukashenko to Rome in a letter to Milan-based daily, Corriere della Sera.

"The Italian government's message to President Lukashenko will be one based on fundamental European principles on the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of Belarusian men and women," Frattini wrote in the letter published Monday.

Lukashenko was scheduled to meet Frattini and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday afternoon.

Frattini said the talks should be viewed within the context of recent EU attempts to help Belarus "undertake the path of democratic evolution".

He cited the EU's decision to invite Lukashenko to attend the Eastern Partnership summit to be held in Prague on May 7.

The EU and US have since the mid-1990s campaigned to isolate Lukashenko and the Belarusian leadership by banning their travel, and imposing trade sanctions against Belarusian businesses. (dpa)