Lithuania asks for easing of Belarus visa regime

Lithuania asks for easing of Belarus visa regime

Lithuania is calling for the easing of European Union travel restrictions for ordinary citizens of Belarus in the wake of the crackdown on opposition politicians in the former Soviet republic, President Dalia Grybauskaite confirmed Monday, DPA reported.

The move follows news last week that Poland planned to waive visa fees for Belarusians, .

Grybauskaite said she had sent a letter to European Council President Herman van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso asking for visa restrictions to be eased for citizens of Belarus wanting to visit the EU.

"It is ... necessary to explore new ways of communicating with Belarus," she said.

Several European diplomats have called for reinstatement of travel restrictions on the leaders of Belarus following December presidential election, which ended in the mass arrest of opposition candidates and a purported landslide victory for incumbent Alexander Lukashenko.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) roundly criticized the conduct of the poll. Lithuania took over the yearlong chair of the OSCE on January 1.

A statement issued by Grybauskaite said visa restrictions should be eased for ordinary citizens "regardless of possible EU sanctions against the country's leadership."

Grybauskaite said the EU had previously "tested" various methods of encouraging democracy in Belarus that had not worked and had in stead "contributed to the isolation of citizens" of Belarus.

Grybauskaite is one of few the Western leaders to have visited the authoritarian Lukashenko in Minsk. In recent comments she criticized the opposition as well the government, saying that she disapproved of violence and possible provocation by the former.

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