Italian PM visits Belarus

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2009 2:27 PM

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has become the first Western leader to visit Belarus in 15 years, as the authoritarian former Soviet state takes small steps toward reform.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, often characterized as Europe's last dictator for his suppression of political opposition and independent media, called Berlusconi's visit, which began Monday, an "eloquent gesture of support for Belarus in the international arena."

Berlusconi said his country is considering creating an Italian manufacturing zone in Belarus to take advantage of the recently enacted customs union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.

After energy and financial disputes with Russia, Lukashenko began initiating small reforms, including a promise to lower election barriers for opposition candidates.