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EU Foreign Policy Chief Offers Belarus Closer Ties

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has held out prospects of closer ties with Belarus following last year's release of a number of leading opposition activists.

Solana spoke in Minsk after what he called constructive talks with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The Belarusian leader, for his part, called for direct contact between the sides without any intervention by mediators.

In December, the European Union unveiled a plan for building ties with Belarus and five other former Soviet republics. The plan will provide increased cooperation and aid, but not offer EU membership.

The union earlier lifted sanctions on Mr. Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials following the release of the detainees. EU authorities imposed the measures in 2006, following presidential elections that Western monitors said were rigged.

While in Minsk, Solana also met with Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich and other activists.