Lukashenko barred from NATO summit

  • 2002-11-21

Belarus will not take part in next week's NATO summit in Prague following the Czech Republic's refusal to issue a visa to Belarus' authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Czech authorities on Nov. 15 refused Lukashenko a visa to represent Belarus at the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council during the November 21-22 NATO summit in Prague.

Belarus considered the visa refusal as "a serious breach of the council's accords, which give every state the right to determine the level of representation at the summit," the Belarusian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Prague's decision "is a dangerous precedent that puts in doubt the unity of the Euro-Atlantic security system," the statement added.

The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council is a post-Cold War creation linking NATO with other European countries and the former constituent republics of the old Soviet Union, of which Belarus is one.

Lukashenko and senior members of his government who had applied for visas to the Czech Republic in the beginning of the month are also set to be banned from entering European Union countries because of concerns over the country's human rights record.

Even discussion of the issue had sparked outrage in Minsk.

"The very fact that they are considering granting a visa or not is insulting to Belarus and humiliating to our people. It also violates all international norms because one needs no special invitation to attend the summit," Lukashenko's spokeswoman Natalya Petkevich said in a statement.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry in turn warned that unless the Belarusian delegation was granted visas, "our official reaction will be very harsh, and the consequences will be serious."

Lukashenko has regularly criticized the military alliance's expansion into the former Soviet sphere. He has been branded by Washington as the last dictator in Europe, and his regime has been repeatedly denounced by Western governments for flagrant human rights abuses and failing to reform any of Belarus' Soviet-era institutions.