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Belarus Wants Improved Ties With Western States, Lukashenko Says

Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko said his country wants to normalize relations with Western powers, signaling a shift in policy two years after coming under pressure for a violent crackdown on protesters.

“We don’t want to quarrel, we want good relations with you, but we also don’t want to bend our knees before you”, Lukashenko told lawmakers today in the capital, Minsk, referring to the European Union and the U.S.

Western sanctions saddling Belarus are counterproductive, Lukashenko said. While the former Soviet republic is willing to maintain close relations with Russia, he called on Moscow not to force Belarus into auctioning off state assets.

The eastern European nation, run by Lukashenko since 1994, is struggling to remove sanctions as it faces pressure to refinance foreign debt and prospects dim for a new bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund. The country’s external debt payments will peak this year at $3.1 billion.

Lukashenko secured his fourth term in office in December 2010 as police and the KGB security service cracked down on protesters, jailing eight presidential contenders. More than 200 officials including the foreign minister and more than 30 companies became subject to travel bans and asset freeze across the EU.

The Belarusian government has made steps in recent months to mend relations with the West. The Swedish charge d’affairs was allowed to return to Belarus after a dispute last August and Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich paid an official visit to Lithuania this week.

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