LONDON (AP) - Britain expelled two Belarus diplomats on Tuesday in response to the Minsk government’s decision to kick out two British envoys.
Belarusian Ambassador Maxim Yermalovich was summoned to the U.K. Foreign Office and told of the decision.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the expulsions sent a message to the authoritarian leader of Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, and his government “that their unjustified expulsion of British diplomats has consequences.”
Raab said the expelled British diplomats, who include Britain’s defense attache, were “legitimately observing protests” in the wake of Belarus’ disputed presidential election. He said their expulsion “is wholly unjustified,” and he accused Lukashenko was trying to “hide the oppression of his own people.”
“The U.K. will continue to hold the Belarusian authorities to account for the rigged election in August and their ongoing use of violence to suppress the Belarusian people,” Raab said in a statement.
Belarus has seen three months of mass protests since official election results showed Lukashenko winning a sixth term with 80% of the vote.
The U.K. has called for a new election to be held and imposed sanctions on the Belarusian leader and his allies following a violent crackdown on protesters.
Raab accused Lukashenko of “a concerted campaign of harassment aimed at activists, media and now diplomats.”
“Instead of trying to bully those shining a light on his repression, Mr. Lukashenko must agree to free and fair elections and enable those responsible for violence against demonstrators to be held to account,” he said.
Lukashenko, who has suppressed opposition and independent news media since coming to power in 1994, has refused dialogue with opponents and has accused Western countries of inciting the protests.
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