Czech PM vetoes V4 meeting with Belarus opposition leader

PRAGUE/WARSAW (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis vetoed on Thursday a Polish proposal to invite Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to Friday’s summit of central European heads of state, saying such a step would be “hasty”.

Babis has repeatedly called for a new election in Belarus where protesters have demanded the end of President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule since a disputed election last month, and said the protests needed support.

But in comments to a Czech news agency that he also sent to Reuters, Babis rejected the proposal of a meeting by Poland, which chairs the Visegrad Group that also includes Hungary and Slovakia. All four nations are members of the European Union.

“I do not want to make a hasty step that will not be in line with the pan-European position, will give ammunition to Belarusian propaganda and will in the end be counter-productive,” CTK quoted Babis as saying.

Exiled leader Tsikhanouskaya was visiting Poland this week and attended a Polish economic forum and multiple events with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw on Wednesday.

Babis said the proposal by Poland only came in the “last hours”. He reiterated his support for free elections in Belarus.

Polish officials told Reuters that Friday’s Visegrad Group summit would nonetheless largely focus on Belarus, with the aim of coordinating a common position putting pressure on the European Union to do more for the country.

A spokesman for the Polish government said only that the pre-agreed agenda did not include a meeting with Tsikhanouskaya.

At loggerheads with Brussels over Poland’s adherence to rule of law standards, Morawiecki’s Law and Justice government is keen to burnish its regional credentials.

Lukashenko denies rigging the Aug. 9 election, which official results said he won by a landslide, and has cracked down hard on protesters demanding his resignation.

The European Union aims to impose economic sanctions on 31 senior Belarusian officials, Reuters has reported. But a dispute in the eastern Mediterranean has delayed EU sanctions on Belarus over the Aug. 9 election that Western powers say was rigged.

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