Monday

21st Jun 2021

Rogues and has-beens invited to EU summit

Four leaders suspected of having blood on their hands, another president who let police beat up peaceful protesters and a lame duck are to receive invitations to an EU summit in May.

The Czech EU presidency's foreign minister, Karl Schwarzenberg, personally handed an invitation to autocratic Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk on Friday (17 April). Similar invitations will be sent to Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine by Monday.

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The form of the invitation leaves each country free to decide who to actually send. But Mr Schwarzenberg's spokeswoman, Zuzana Opletalova, said Prague expects to host "generally presidents or prime ministers - it depends on the constitution of each country."

The "Eastern Partnership" summit is a Polish-Swedish initiative to promote democratic reform and boost EU energy security through better relations with the six former Soviet states. But human rights activists have accused the EU of putting geopolitical games ahead of foreign policy ethics in the scheme.

The darkest stain on Mr Lukashenko's reputation is the disappearance on his watch in 1999 and 2000 of four opposition activists, whose families are still campaigning for judicial enquiries today.

In an eccentric public relations campaign, Mr Lukashenko has started to bring his four-year old son, Kolya, to top-level meetings, such as a summit with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in March. Asked if the boy would be welcome to meet the 27 EU leaders in Prague on 7 May, Ms Opletalova repeated: "It is up to each country to decide who to bring."

Kolya's presence may also be required in Mr Lukashenko's biggest public relations coup to date: the Vatican on Friday told Reuters that he will meet the Pope later this month.

Meanwhile, the question of who Moldova will send to the EU summit is wide open. The country currently has no official government after inconclusive elections on 5 April.

Caretaker President Vladimir Voronin is expected to informally retain control by taking the powerful post of parliament speaker or chair of the Communist party, leaving the option of a puppet president speaking for him in Prague.

The Voronin administration has the death of three opposition protesters on its record after a police crackdown on 7 April, with the president this week announcing an amnesty that covers security forces involved in the killings.

Armenia's Mr Sargsyan has yet to hold anyone to account for post-election violence in March 2008 in which eight protesters and two policemen lost their lives.

At least 300 protesters sustained serious injuries in clashes in Azerbaijan after President Ilham Alyiev was voted to power in October 2003. NGO Human Rights Watch says security forces also beat to death one man, 52-year old Hamidaga Zakhidov.

Different league

In a different league to the four men above, Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili fell from grace in terms of democratic credentials in November 2007 when riot police hospitalised 508 peaceful protesters in Tbilisi.

A fresh round of anti-Saakashvili protests entered its eighth day in the Georgia capital on 17 April, with the president showing restraint for the time being but with the opposition hoping for a second crackdown to help oust him from power.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko emerges as the cleanest of the six EU summit candidates.

Ukraine transport minister Heorhiy Kyrpa was found dead in his home with gunshot wounds to the head shortly after the Orange Revolution that brought Mr Yushchenko to power in November 2004. The country's former interior minister Yuri Kravchenko also died in suspicious circumstances in March 2005.

The deaths of the two men, both loyal to the pre-Orange Revolution regime, were never linked to the new administration.

But Mr Yushchenko is himself a ghost politically-speaking, with long-running allegations of corruption and incompetence seeing his approval rating hit just four percent ahead of presidential elections later this year.

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