10 US diplomats ordered to leave Belarus

starsnstripes.jpgReuters | Ten US diplomats were ordered to leave Belarus within 72 hours on Wednesday, intensifying a row over sanctions and human rights. US charge d’affaires Jonathan Moore, talking to reporters after being summoned to the foreign ministry, said the embassy would abide by orders from the ex-Soviet state’s authorities.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has long been accused of suppressing freedom of speech and assembly. He has been barred from both the United States and European Union on allegations he rigged his 2006 re-election.

Moore said he believed new sanctions would be introduced if Belarus did not release all detainees deemed to be political prisoners. “Yes. I believe it will be soon,” he said. Belarussian authorities said Washington had failed to comply with a demand to reduce its embassy’s staff, the second this year.

“The foreign ministry provided a list of 10 diplomats which must leave the country in the course of 72 hours,” Moore said.

He said 15 diplomats were now in Minsk.

“We will do everything possible so that the US diplomats leave the country within the required time limit.”

Belarus’ foreign ministry earlier said it had issued a list of US diplomats it said had to leave over Washington’s failure to cut staff at its embassy.

The United States ambassador left the country last month at the urging of authorities and another diplomat had also gone.

US officials have said a resumption of dialogue is possible only if Belarus releases its most prominent detainee, academic Alexander Kozulin, jailed for five and a half years for helping stage mass protests against the president’s re-election.

Lukashenko ruled out any release of Kozulin on Tuesday in his annual state-of-the-nation address to parliament.

Kozulin turned down an offer last year to go to Germany for treatment of his ailing wife on the grounds it amounted to going into exile. His wife has since died.