(coe) - On the concluding day of a two-day visit to Belarus (18-19 January 2007), the President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly RenГ© van der Linden has called for positive steps to start fresh co-operation with Belarus and end its isolation.
I see more willingness on the part of the authorities to move closer to European structures, in particular the Council of Europe and the European Union, the President said.
In meetings with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Vladimir Konoplev and Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Martynov, the President called for the release of all those imprisoned for allegedly political reasons, and offered dialogue with Belarus вЂ" but said it must be based on respect for and the implementation of Council of Europe values such as the freedom of expression, the organisation of free and fair elections and the abolition of the death penalty, reports Trend.
Stressing to the authorities that every country needed a strong opposition to ensure the proper functioning of the political system, as well as a strong civil society, he called for greater dialogue among all the political forces in the country.
He also met with members of the opposition, including Alexander Milinkievich and Irina Kozulin, wife of imprisoned opposition leader Aleksandr Kozulin, and representatives of civil society and NGOs. They agreed it was a good moment for a high-level political visit and considered it a positive step for promoting democratic development.
The President proposed several steps to promote Council of Europe values in Belarus, facilitate dialogue and intensify people-to-people contact:
вЂў To send international experts to make an independent assessment of whether alleged political prisoners in Belarus should be considered as such.
вЂў To open a Council of Europe office in Minsk, as called for by the Assembly.
вЂў To intensify exchanges between students in Belarus and other European countries, and simplify visa procedures to enable such exchanges.
вЂў To make use of existing Council of Europe mechanisms, such as the Venice Commission, its body of independent experts in constitutional law, and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
At the end of his visit, Mr van der Linden addressed students at the Belarusian State University, and met leading religious figures.