Belarus, a country frequently referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe, says a number of American diplomats have been declared persona non grata and must leave the country.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that charge d'affaires Jonathan Moore was summoned and presented with a list of 10 diplomats--out of the 15 at the embassy--who must leave within 72 hours. The new list comes after U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart left last month under pressure from Belarussian authorities in apparent retaliation for U.S. economic sanctions. The U.S. State Department called the expulsions "unjustified and unwarranted" but didn't say it if would retaliate in kind.
The Bush administration has been a strong critic of authoritarian Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. And the U.S. government's Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty took note of Lukashenko's speech to the nation this week in which he made clear that, among other things, the West had no right to demand the release of political prisoners, in particular academic and former opposition presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin, jailed for 5 1/2 years for helping stage mass protests against Lukashenko's election.
Belarus launched a new crackdown on pro-democracy activists this month, an action Lukashenko defended in his April 29 speech. "Honestly, I feel sorry for these kids who are posing as revolutionary fighters," he said. "They are put in the front lines like meat, while those behind them seek to fulfill their own personal political ambitions."
The speech and the diplomatic expulsions sent Belarus's deteriorating relations with the West to a new low point.
By Terry Atlas