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28 Sep, 2008 02:28

Belarus leader rejects dictator tag

Polls are open in Belarus where a parliamentary election is being held. President Aleksandr Lukashenko has insisted the vote will be free and democratic and has allowed the opposition to take part, something which didn't

Europe's last dictator or the European Castro are some of the nicknames used by the Western media to describe the president of Belarus. Previous presidential elections in the country were called fraudulent by the EU and the U.S. labelled it “the Outpost of Tyranny”.

But Lukashenko appears to be unhappy with such perceptions and is trying to work on a new image. The mastermind of the charm offensive is PR guru Lord Timothy Bell, who previously worked for Margaret Thatcher and one of Russia's most wanted men – tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

Bell and Lukashenko met in March and agreed “double standards” are being used towards Belarus. Bell's chosen the “family guy” strategy, unveiling a politician through family.
Thus for the last several months the Belarusian leader has been taking his youngest son Nikolay everywhere with him. Nikolay is a child from an affair Lukashenko admitted to not so long ago. His eldest son Viktor also makes public appearances as a member of the Security Council.

Moscow-based image consultant Vladimir Kravtsov believes the timing of the make-over is no coincidence. After rowing with Russia over gas prices, Lukashenko have been actively courting the EU.

Sergey Musiyenko from Minsk ECOOM analysis centre agrees:

“There are many volunteering to clean-up Belarus image. They understand this campaign can promote the economic interests of the country – in this case through relationship with Britain”.

Mending ties with Europe has become essential ahead of the parliamentary elections. Lukashenko released all the political prisoners, and the opposition is likely to gain seats in the parliament.

The EU has responded by lifting sanctions and in November London hosts the Belarusian Investment Forum for the first time.

Image consultant Vladimir Kravtsov says these are the fruits of Bell's campaign.

“I'd say soon we'll find Belarus taking part in some peacekeeping mission in Islamabad or its contingent placed in Iraq. I can perfectly picture it: Aleksandr Lukashenko visiting some Belarus battalion fighting the Taliban somewhere in the north of Afghanistan,” he adds.