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EU invites Belarus foreign minister to Paris talks

By RIA Novosti,

Brussels : The EU said Tuesday the Belarus foreign minister has been invited to attend a meeting in Paris on September 15 in a sign that the 27-nation bloc is shifting away from its hard line stance towards Minsk.

During the meeting, Sergei Martynov is scheduled to meet with Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner, foreign policy chief Javier Solana and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. The talks are viewed as the first step by the EU in lifting sanctions, imposed four years ago, on Belarus.

The EU imposed visa bans on 41 Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following his landslide victory in presidential elections in March 2006, which international observers and the Belarus opposition called flawed citing human rights violations.

The EU move follows the release of three political prisoners by Belarus last month ahead of parliamentary elections in the country on September 28.

Brussels said it could review sanctions against Minsk, on the condition that the OSCE gives the September polls a positive assessment and Belarus decides not to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

The Belarusian leader said on Monday Belarus would discuss the recognition of Georgia’s breakaway republics shortly after the new parliament is formed.