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    Lukashenko says Belarus committed to cooperation with EU-2

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    The president of Belarus said on Friday he was committed to cooperation with the European Union, but refused to engage the country's opposition to improve relations.

    (Adds Kremlin comment, Czech president's reaction in paras 9-12)

    MINSK, April 17 (RIA Novosti) - The president of Belarus said on Friday he was committed to cooperation with the European Union, but refused to engage the country's opposition to improve relations.

    "We want [to improve] relations with the EU. We have repeatedly said Belarus does not accept third parties in its dialogue with the EU." Alexander Lukashenko said after talks with Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic, the current EU president.

    Lukashenko accused the opposition of destabilizing the country and provoking tensions in ties between Minsk and Brussels.

    Belarus and the EU have moved to mend their ties recently. Lukashenko freed several political prisoners last October following demands from the 27-nation bloc, which then suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko imposed following the 2006 election it described as flawed.

    Lukashenko, who has led Belarus since 1994, has been criticized for clamping down on dissent and human rights.

    Schwarzenberg said the time had come "to give a positive start to relations between Belarus and the EU," and invited Lukashenko to attend the EU's Eastern Partnership summit in Prague next month, the Belta news agency reported.

    The program is designed to improve human rights and the rule of law in six former Soviet republics - Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia - and address trade and visa issues.

    Belarus has also urged talks on a comprehensive cooperation treaty with the EU and its re-inclusion in the GSP system of trade preferences, which covered Belarusian exports like timber, textiles and mineral fertilizers. The EU stripped Belarus of the preferences in 2006.

    The Kremlin welcomed the EU's invitation for Belarus to attend the Prague summit.

    "We are happy realistic attitudes towards Belarus have gained the upper hand in Brussels," Sergei Prikhodko, a Kremlin aide, said on Friday.

    Meanwhile, Czech presidential spokesman Radim Ochvat said Vaclav Klaus would neither greet Lukashenko nor invite him to Prague Castle if he came for the summit.

    "Czech President Vaclav Klaus is somewhat surprised at the invitation for the Belarusian leadership to attend the EU Eastern Partnership summit to be held in Prague on May 7," Ochvat said.

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