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People walk during snowfall in Gorky Park in Minsk, Belarus January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

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MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus will allow visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, for visits of up to five days, according to a presidential decree signed on Monday.

The decree comes as the former Soviet republic is seeking to improve its image in the West and rely less on ally Russia.

The relaxed visa rules will apply to visitors who arrive in Belarus by airplane. They will come into force a month after their official publication.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who once described himself as the "last dictator in Europe", helped improve his image in the West by acting as an intermediary during the Ukraine conflict.

The EU imposed economic sanctions on Russia over that conflict in 2014.

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany later signed a peace deal on the Ukraine conflict in Minsk, the Belarussian capital.

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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