KIEV // Ukraine faced a diplomatic row yesterday over the attendance of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at a summit next month on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Ukraine is inviting world leaders to a conference in Kiev on April 19 to mark the 25th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident at its Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Its plan to have José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, open the conference was threatened by the possible attendance of Mr Lukashenko, whose country was badly affected by radioactivity from the reactor disaster.
Mr Lukashenko is on a western blacklist for alleged rights abuses. Ukrainian media say Mr Barroso has refused to take part if there was any likelihood of him turning up.
Late last week Kiev seemed to have found a solution. A senior Ukrainian presidential aide said Belarus would be represented by prime minister Mikhail Myasnikovich, who does not appear on a blacklist of Minsk officials.
But yesterday Mr Lukashenko's office said he had received a personal invitation from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to attend the Kiev gathering, and he intended to be there.
"We plan to … take part in the Chernobyl events. I mean both the summit and the international conference," Mr Lukashenko's press secretary, Pavel Lyokhy, said.
Ukraine badly wants Mr Barroso to attend because it sees the European Union as the pivotal force in efforts to secure a pledge of US$600 million (Dh2.2 billon) from the world community, at the Kiev summit, to build a new protective shield over the Chernobyl reactor.
But Ukraine also tries to maintain good relations with Belarus.
Referring to media reports that Mr Barroso had refused to go to the Kiev summit if Mr Lukashenko attended, Mr Lyokhy said: "If Mr Barroso, for whatever reason, is afraid of meeting the Belarusian president that is his problem."
The EU has led criticism of Mr Lukashenko over a police clampdown on the political opposition, and has imposed sanctions on him including a ban on travel to the West.
About 30 people, including several presidential candidates who contested Mr Lukashenko's 16-year grip on power in an election last December, are awaiting trial in connection with an opposition rally that was broken up by riot police.
A source in the Ukrainian presidential administration hinted at a way out yesterday, saying Mr Lukashenko and Russia's Dmitry Medvedev might visit Kiev on April 26, the anniversary of the 1986 nuclear disaster but after the conference is over.