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Belarus Hosts Libya's Qaddafi On Historic Regional Visit

November 03, 2008

MINSK (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has received his Libyan counterpart, Muammar Qaddafi, for talks in Minsk.

The visit is part of Qaddafi's first tour of the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his first-ever visit to Belarus.

Lukashenka made sure the occasion was surrounded by the requisite diplomatic pomp.

Lukashenka personally met Qaddafi at Minsk's airport on November 2, assuring him of his country's support and wishing Libya prosperity.

The two leaders met again on November 3 for official talks that resulted in a series of bilateral agreements, including a double-taxation treaty and a cooperation agreement between the two countries' judicial authorities.

'Very Happy About Your Victory'

Addressing Qaddafi after their meeting, Lukashenka was quick to draw comparisons between Belarus and the North African state.

"We are very happy about your victory on the international arena," he said. "We know how difficult it was to endure the international sanctions, imposed illegally, and despite this lift the country to the rank of states that determine world politics today."

Lukashenka, whose regime has been slapped with Western sanctions over its poor human rights record, maintained ties with Libya when it was still regarded as an international outcast, visiting Qaddafi in 2000.

But unlike Lukashenka, whom Washington branded as "Europe's last dictator," Qaddafi has made a successful transition from "the mad dog in the Middle East" -- in former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's words -- to respectable diplomatic partner.

Western nations restored relations with Tripoli in 2005 after Qaddafi's decision to abandon his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, renounce terrorism, and claim responsibility for a 1986 bombing in Berlin and an 1988 airliner bombing over Scotland that killed 270 people.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's landmark visit to Libya in September -- the first visit to the country by a top U.S. official since 1957 -- sealed the diplomatic rehabilitation of Qaddafi.

Belarus-watchers say Lukashenka, too, is eager to raise his international credibility, especially since Minsk has just been awarded a generous loan by the International Monetary Fund to help it weather the global financial crisis.

"Belarus needs Qaddafi's visit to show that it is not an isolationist state, that heads of states travel there," says Andrey Fiodarau, a Minsk-based political analyst. "Both sides also likely seek to expand economic and, to some extent, military ties."

'Vying For Influence'

Belarus is certainly interested in expanding economic ties with Libya, which Lukashenka described as a "close friend and partner."

And according to Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor in chief of the "Russia in Global Affairs" journal in Moscow, Minsk is not alone in courting Qaddafi.

"Leading countries are currently vying for influence in less influential but nonetheless important countries," Lukyanov says. "Libya is a rich, rather important state. I think all players in world politics will try to win it over, and [Qaddafi] will draw benefit from it."

Qaddafi is due to finish his weeklong tour with a visit to Ukraine.

The Libyan leader traveled on November 2 from Moscow, where he reportedly discussed a deal under which Russia would build nuclear research reactors for his country.

He was also expected to discuss major arms deals with Russia. Libya is eager to upgrade its Soviet-era arsenal, which the country was unable to renew during decade-long UN sanctions lifted in 2003.

But Russia now faces competition from Belarus and Ukraine as an arms supplier.

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service contributed to this report.


Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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