Ten US diplomats to leave Belarus

May 1st, 2008 - 11:59 am ICT by admin  

Washington, May 1 (DPA) The US will comply with Belarus’ “unjustified” request for 10 American diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours, the US State Department said. Once the diplomats leave, embassy staff in Minsk will be reduced to four amid growing tensions between the two countries over Washington’s criticism of the Eastern European nation’s human rights record.

“Since this was a formal diplomatic request, we will comply with it,” spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday. “We told the Belarusians in private, and we will say in public, that we believe that this action is unjustified and unwarranted.”

The US had already stopped processing visa applications in March after the Belarussians requested staff at the US embassy be cut in half. The US ambassador to Belarus, Karen Stewart, was also asked to leave in March and she remains in Washington.

McCormack said the State Department is weighing a response to Minsk but would not say if the US will reciprocate with similar steps.

The US has criticised Belarus for jailing political dissidents and slapped sanctions on its Belneftekhim energy firm. President Aleksander Lukashenko has been the focus of US and European Union criticism for holding fraudulent elections and arresting opposition leaders.

“We want to have a good relationship with Belarus and work to try to improve that,” McCormack said. “But we are not going to do that and sacrifice the principles of pushing for freedom of expression, political freedoms and other freedoms in Belarus.”

The US charge de affaires in Belarus, Jonathan Moore, received the request from the Belarussian government, McCormack said.

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