The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has expressed hope he can encourage democracy in Belarus and help expand dialogue with the country's leaders.
Dutch Senator Rene van der Linden says he hopes his visit to Minsk will help foster movement by Belarus toward respect for European values and closer cooperation with the Council of Europe. He made his comments after meeting with Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov.
Van der Linden also met with Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, who expressed concern that the visit was too friendly a gesture toward authorities. He said the Assembly president should have sought release of Belarusian political prisoners in advance of his trip.
The United States and European Union have called March presidential elections in Belarus a fraud and imposed sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko and other senior officials. President Bush has called Mr. Lukashenko Europe's last dictator, because of his suppression of human rights and free speech.
The Council of Europe brings together lawmakers from all democratic European countries to review various issues including implementation of human rights.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.