Merkel meets regional PMs in Bratislava


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) - The German Chancellor and counterparts from central European countries condemned President Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus' regime at a V4 meeting Tuesday, and called for the immediate release of all political prisoners in the post-Soviet republic.

The prime ministers of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were joined by Angela Merkel, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov for a meeting marking the 20th anniversary of the group.

All leaders, bar Azarov, signed a statement demanding Lukashenko "stop political repression and harassment of the opposition, independent media and civil society."

Lukashenko won the Dec. 19 election with nearly 80 percent of the vote, a poll widely regarded as fraudulent. Mass protests were violently dispersed by police, who arrested seven of nine opposition candidates.

The leaders also said they were "deeply concerned" about a significant increase in food, commodity and energy prices and called for a common European Union policy to tackle the problem.

Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radicova said it is not possible for one country alone to solve the issue, with Merkel adding that a common EU position needed to be found.

Slovakia's annual inflation was at 3 percent in January compared with 1.3 percent in December.

The increase is attributed to an increase in energy prices, accommodation, and a higher value added tax. Inflation is also becoming an issue as the country is recovering from a global economic downturn.


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