EU to let Belarus leader travel
Alexander Lukashenko will now be allowed to travel to the EU
The European Union has decided to lift its travel ban on President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, in an attempt to encourage democratic reform.
The ban on Mr Lukashenko and other officials would be lifted for six months, a diplomat told Reuters.
Belarus has been labelled "Europe's last dictatorship" by the US - but the West has been encouraged by the release of political prisoners.
"We want to show that progress is being rewarded," said an EU commissioner.
External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU should not "forego a possibility to have political leverage".
She was speaking after meeting Belarussian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov.
Mr Martynov was due to meet EU foreign ministers later in the day - the highest such contact between the two sides in four years.
Only a few Belarussian officials, believed to have been involved in the disappearance of political opponents, remain affected by the travel ban, the EU presidency said.
However, freezes on the assets of Belarussian officials in Europe would remain in place, diplomats said.
Not all European countries were convinced sanctions on Belarus should be eased.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that last month's parliamentary election, in which all the seats were won by politicians loyal to the president, was as "lousy" as usual in Belarus.
But the EU feels it has little option but to strengthen ties with its eastern neighbours - over which Russia is trying to reassert its influence - even when they do not entirely live up to democratic expectations, says the BBC's European affairs correspondent Oana Lungescu.