Belarus denies holding political prisoners, ahead of EU summit
Belarus' foreign minister denied on Wednesday that his country held any political prisoners, as the country prepared to attend next month's European Union "Eastern Partnership" summit, dpa reported.
Belarus was described by the previous US administration of George W Bush as the "last dictatorship in Europe", and has faced diplomatic isolation, but is scheduled to attend the May 7 summit in Prague.
In the Latvian capital Riga for a meeting with his opposite number Maris Reikstins, Foreign Minister Sergey Martinov claimed Minsk did not jail people for being political opponents.
"In Belarus there are no political prisoners. There were people of certain political opinions that were convicted for certain criminal offences," Martinov told journalists after the meeting.
Martinov also placed some of the blame for an earlier freeze in EU-Belarus relations squarely at the EU's door, and said President Alexander Lukashenko was looking forward to attending the Prague meeting.
"The government of Belarus has always been ready for constructive action but we did not always find an adequate response," he said.
Asked about the opportunities for dissent to be heard, Martinov pointed to the establishment of a consultative council including members of the opposition as evidence of Belarus' "positive and constructive" attitude.
"Instruments for the opposition to be heard have been established, but perhaps the opposition hasn't found too much support with the general population," he suggested.
Riekstins said he had seen a "positive dynamic" in relations between the EU and Belarus in recent months and that the EU's relaxation of sanctions against the country had been "based on the steps taken by the Belarus side in the course of the last six months."
"There have been certain steps taken by Belarus ministries and authorities such as giving freedom to political prisoners that have been positively evaluated by the EU," Riekstins said.
Other topics discussed by the two ministers included the possible sale of energy from Belarus to EU member Latvia, with some of it sourced from a planned new nuclear power station.
"We would love to export energy from the future nuclear power station," Martinov said.